Synopses & Reviews
America's own The Professor and the Madman: the story of Noah Webster, author of the first dictionary of American English-and a forgotten leader during a turning point in our nation's history.
Noah Webster's name is now synonymous with the dictionary he created, but although there is much more to his story than that singular achievement, his rightful place in American history has been forgotten over time. Webster hobnobbed with various Founding Fathers and was a young confidant of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, among others. He started New York City's first daily newspaper, predating Alexander Hamilton's New York Post. His "blue- backed speller" for schoolchildren, his first literary effort, sold millions of copies and influenced early copyright law. He helped found Amherst College and served as a state representative for both Connecticut and Massachusetts. But perhaps most important, Webster was an ardent supporter of a unified, definitively American culture, distinct from the British, at a time when the United States of America were anything but unified-and his dictionary of American English is a testament to that.
In The Forgotten Founding Father, Joshua Kendall, author of The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, gives us a well-researched and absorbing look into the life of Webster, another man driven by his obsessions and compulsions to compile and organize words. The result is a treat for word lovers and history buffs alike.
"In 1828 Noah Webster published the groundbreaking American Dictionary of the English Language and secured his niche as an avatar of a distinct American culture. Kendall (The Man Who Made Lists) honors Webster's crucial contributions to early American nationalism, which extended far beyond his primary obsession, the written word. Kendall paints a complex portrait of Webster (1758 1843), a man he claims 'housed a host of contradictory identities: revolutionary, reactionary, fighter, peacemaker, intellectual, commonsense philosopher, ladies' man, prig, slick networker and loner.' In spite of his flaws, Webster, Kendall argues not wholly successfully, belongs among the ranks of America's notable founders, associating with George Washington and Ben Franklin, among others, to craft an early American identity rooted in national pride and a distinctly American lexicon. Citing frequent references to Webster's nervous afflictions, Kendall ventures the somewhat shaky diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The book includes the politics of the 'forgotten' founder, for example, noting that Webster 'detested Andrew Jackson as the second coming of Jefferson,' and a wide range of his activities, including helping found Amherst College. Kendall provides an intriguing look at one of America's earliest men of letters that is sure to appeal to lovers of both words and history. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Mr. Kendall is a careful writer, and a gifted storyteller . . . [The Forgotten Founding Father
is] an engaging, almost novel-like read."
-Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal
"A gracefully told story that commands attention and confers on Webster deserved honor too long deferred."
-Kirkus (starred review)
"[A] poignant look into the life of a figure who played a central role in the historical development of the American language. Kendell capably delves beyond the realm of words and into Webster's social and intellectual worlds."
"This is by far the best, and best written, life of Webster. Kendall makes a convincing case that Webster invented American nationalism long before the American nation came into existence."
-Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and His Excellency: George Washington
"[The Forgotten Founding Father] paints a rich portrait of an American original, a man who was determined to shape a new American culture as an educator, political advocate, newspaper publisher, and path-breaking lexicographer. So obsessive that he counted the houses in every town he visited, Webster's difficult personality was uniquely suited to creating a seminal dictionary almost entirely by himself."
-David O. Stewart, author of Impeached and The Summer of 1787
Noah Webster's name is now synonymous with the dictionary he created, but his story is not nearly so ubiquitous. Now acclaimed author of The Man Who Made Lists, Joshua Kendall sheds new light on Webster's life, and his far-reaching influence in establishing the American nation.
Webster hobnobbed with various Founding Fathers and was a young confidant of George Washington and Ben Franklin. He started New York's first daily newspaper, predating Alexander Hamilton's New York Post. His "blue-backed speller" for schoolchildren sold millions of copies and influenced early copyright law. But perhaps most important, Webster was an ardent supporter of a unified, definitively American culture, distinct from the British, at a time when the United States of America were anything but unified-and his dictionary of American English is a testament to that.
About the Author
Joshua Kendall is a language enthusiast and an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. He lives in Boston.