The Meaning of Everything

  • by Simon Winchester
  • Narrated by Simon Winchester
  • 7 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Writing with marvelous brio, Simon Winchester first serves up a lightning history of the English language and pays homage to the great dictionary makers from Samuel Johnson to Noah Webster before turning his unmatched talent for storytelling to the making of the most venerable of dictionaries: The Oxford English Dictionary. Here the listener is presented with lively portraits of such key figures as the brilliant but sickly first editor Herbert Coleridge, the colorful, wildly eccentric Frederick Furnivall, and the incomparable James Augustus Henry Murray, who spent half a century as editor bringing the project to fruition. Winchester lovingly describes the minutiae of dictionary making, brings us to visit the unseemly corrugated iron shed that Murray grandly dubbed The Scriptorium, and introduces some of the legion of volunteers, from Fitzedward Hall, a bitter hermit obsessively devoted to the OED, to the murderous W. C. Minor, whose story is one of dangerous madness, ineluctable sadness, and ultimate redemption.The Meaning of Everything is a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument erected to a living language.


What the Critics Say

"With his usual winning blend of scholarship and accessible, skillfully paced narrative...[Simon] Winchester successfully brings readers inside the day-to-day operations of the massive project and shows us the unrelenting passion of people...who, in the end, succeeded magnificently. Winchester's book will be required reading for word mavens and anyone interested in the history of our marvelous, ever-changing language." (Publishers Weekly)
"Teeming with knowledge and alive with insights. Winchester handles humor and awe with modesty and cunning." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Entrancing." (Chicago Tribune)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A New Appreciation

When you finish listening to this book, you will have a new found respect and admiration for dictionaries and the enduring characters who are responsible for creating them. Some complained that the book was nothing but a thesaurus of word origins. True, it starts out that way, but it definitely does not end that way. You are taken through decades of struggle, defeat and ultimate success. How the OED was ever completed was a miracle, but also a testament to the strength and endurance of the men who created it.
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- Donald

Fascinating and touching

This book is exactly as advertised, only much more so. You expect the brief outline of the English language, the history of early lexicography, but perhaps not the enthralling detail about the individual contributors to what would become the OED, not only the major editors, but the staff, and the immense number of reader volunteers who made the dictionary possible. At some point the author says something to the effect that the editors didn't care what the personal circumstances or characters of the volunteer contributors were, so long as they were competent, and for me the most moving aspect of this book was in the later chapters when some of these readers and contributors are described. At times, I was brought to tears by their stories. As presented here, the OED was a labour of love--paid sometimes, more often not--of many people, for some of whom their work on it seems to have acted as a kind of redemption in lives otherwise lost in frustration, obscurity, or madness.

Well, I loved it. The author's humanistic outlook shines through every line, and furthermore he is a very pleasant reader!

For everyone who has ever pondered entries in the OED and wondered (among other things) how they could ever have located and organized all those quotations before the age of the computer...this is the book for you.
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- Amazon Customer

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-14-2004
  • Publisher: HarperAudio