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The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus

3.18 of 5 stars 3.18  ·  rating details  ·  479 ratings  ·  127 reviews
The extraordinary true story of Peter Mark Roget and his legendary Thesaurus.

Peter Mark Roget-polymath, eccentric, synonym aficionado-was a complicated man. He was an eminent scholar who absorbed himself in his work, yet he also possessed an allure that endeared him to his mentors and colleagues-not to mention a host of female admirers. But, most notably, Roget made list
Hardcover, 297 pages
Published March 13th 2008 by Putnam Adult (first published 2008)
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Jun 11, 2008 Ellen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoyed Simon Winchester's Professor and the Madman.
Did you know that Peter M. Roget invented the slide rule as well as creating the book that is synonymous with synonyms?

He lost his father at five. His mother was overprotective and bat-shit crazy. Roget was an emotional wreck who forwent participation in society in favor of observing, listing, and organizing things.

Kendall crafts a highly readable narrative.

“Unlike Girard and his successors, Roget aimed not to explain or prescribe the use of the words. Rather, he felt he just needed to list all
I think Peter Roget might be my historical soulmate. His biographer, though, is a little over-assiduous in emphasizing the OCD theme, so much so that when the reader finally reaches the publication of thesaurus it's regrettably anticlimactic. The transitions from straight fact to imagined dialogue are almost excessively awkward. However, fun to read about the role model for list-makers everywhere.
Read the review in "BookPage" and was definitely intrigued by the title, but unfortunately this is the only good thing about the book - eye catching title.
I attempted to stick through this book but it got drier and more confusing as I read on, so I gave up.
Sorry Roget, I hope at least you liked the book about your life, and you're not turning over in your grave!
Feb 04, 2009 Anna rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Anna by: GoodReads
If I hadn't just read The Last Man Who Knew Everything Thomas Young, The Anonymous Polymath Who Proved Newton Wrong, Explained How We See, Cured the Sick, and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Among Other Feats of Genius, this book would have been more impressive.

As it was, both authors wrote books about British polymaths who were doctors, made breakthroughs in their medical fields, made contributions to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and were linguistic pioneers. Of the two, however, Thomas Young see
Like many others reviewing here, I didn't actually finishing reading this book. I have a 150 page rule. If I'm not captivated by 150 pages then reading becomes homework not pleasure. I gave it three stars because someone who is interested in Roget, the time period he was functioning in, his contempories, and even the history of natural science would probably find this book pretty interesting. Roget had a compulsive personality but managed to use what could have been a disabling trait to his and ...more
Feb 12, 2009 Jane added it
I skipped around a lot. I kept thinking "if he was in a public school today, he'd be on the Autism Spectrum".
Joe Mcveigh
I'm trying to think of something good to write about Joshua Kendall's biography of Peter Mark Roget, but I just can't, even though the story of Roget's life includes madness, depression, a death-defying race to get out of Napoleon's France, and lexicography. Those are things that would make a book interesting to me.

I think my biggest beef with The Man Who Made Lists is that it's too scant on the creation of Roget's Thesaurus. What was I supposed to think though, when the book's sub-heading is
Abigail Padgett
An idiosyncratic biography of Peter Mark Roget, the creator of the thesaurus that has, in various editions, never been far from my typewriter, later my computer. The cord to my mouse trails across the Harper and Row 4th Edition right now, although I love the old editions for their elegant, half-forgotten words. If I could have but one book on the proverbial desert island, it would be an unabridged Roget’s including every word since the first edition. When finally rescued, I’d sound like William ...more
Scratch "Love" out of the subtitle for this book; there wasn't any. Tons of madness, though, and slightly more death than I really wanted, but hell, it's the 19th Century, people die.

In the spirit of making lists, here's mine:
1. Roget's mother might have been overbearing, but the author seems to really hate her. That turned me off.
2. Okay, so it's not a scholarly biography, I know, but please don't write Roget's internal monologue. Or do, but then make it a play or film script or something.
3. I
Nov 07, 2009 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Today we usually know this man only from the fact that he published a book, still in print today, call "Roget's Thesaurus". That this man created this book is almost a given. He spent his entire life making lists. The thesaurus was just one facet of this habit (or compulsion).

He lived a rather interesting and colorful life. Mostly centered around scientists and scientific (or mathematic) endeavors. But his lasting contribution is in language/composition.

It's a story that takes a little-known fig
Sarah Messick-Milone
The subtitle of this biography promises a lot of excitement, and the opening sequence seems to deliver. The book opens with a the harrowing tale of the death of Roget's uncle, told with an immediacy that the rest of the book unfortunately lacks. Perhaps it's because I find Roget to be a bit of a snob, perhaps it's because I find his lack of social skills annoying, or perhaps he just didn't have that interesting of a life-- in any case this book didn't really hold my interest or provide much enjo ...more
Rhonda Hankins
fun read of quite a weird guy who lived quite an interesting life in interesing places during interesting times despite himself.

i don't know if roget despised his mother or not, but the author of this book certainly hated roget's mother and his insistence on emphasizing all the mother's irritating habits is either amusing or annoying, not sure which, but in any event produced a son with odd habits.
Completely readable biography of Peter Mark Roget. I didn't really realize how much of a polymath he was, and I did enjoy the book. However, the use of quotes when discussing interactions that the author had no way of verifying (mental "Roget thought..." and interactions with his children as examples) made this a difficult book to take as an authoritative source.
I listened to this book, so I know I enjoyed it more than if I had tried to read it. It had a lot of useless (to me) information that I found myself tuning out. The timeline was also all over the place, so it was hard to keep track of when different events coincided. Those were the negatives, but there were so many mor positives.

I was introduced to Roget's Thesaurus in my later Elementary years and use it occasionally to find a correct word. Though it mostly just sits on my shelf, I do recognize
Jun 23, 2008 Stacey rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: word geeks
This was a fascinating biography of the Roget who created Roget's Thesaurus. I learned a lot about his motivations, pet peeves in life, and the intellectual climate of the time in England. I'm glad I picked this one up at the library. I'm finding that I enjoy reading about intelligent, but odd figures in intellectual history.
A. P. Bullard
I saw this book at the library and, as someone who collects words, was extremely excited about diving into it. I looked up reviews when I got home, and saw many people felt it was dry and boring. I wonder if biographies are simply not their cups of tea? It was abundantly clear that Kendall did a lot of research and had substantial knowledge of both his subject and the time period.

Roget endured a lot of stressful events, including the death of his father. In the wake of this tragedy, his mother
Would've liked to have seen more about the Thesaurus itself. Instead, it mostly reads like a laundry list of major events in Roget's life. That, in itself, wouldn't have been so bad if Roget was a more interesting person, or had opened himself up more to historians.
The first half of this book was absolutely wonderful. I have always been interested in language and the people who have helped shape it.

Well researched, well written, and deeply igniting. Until you get to the second half.

Once you are half-way through this biography it seems to delve into the world of the novel. Research turns to speculation - there is no way that Joshua Kendall can say for certain what Roget was thinking as he looked off of ships. He also seems to be a little too interested in
I thought I would love this book as I love words, dictionaries,thesarus etc. but I was disappointed. Although there are psychological explanations given for Roget's passion the book was not coherent and failed to interest me.
I'd never thought about Roget as a person before, just part of the title of his thesaurus. While learning a little about him was interesting, it didn't keep my interest to finish the book.
Catherine Alber
Writing is redundant and pedestrian which is a shame, because the story of Peter Roget and his Thesaurus is fascinating and the research is good.
Oct 12, 2014 Michael marked it as abandoned
After the introduction, which was entirely unobjectionable, I felt like I knew all I needed to know about Roget and his Thesaurus.
Not quite as good as The Professor and the Madman, but still quite an interesting read.
This is the biography of Peter Roget, who amongst his many achievements developed Roget's Thesaurus. I've read reviews of this book who criticized it for not focusing enough on the Thesaurus and its development, but I certainly didn't see this as a problem. This is, after all, a biography, not a book about the Thesaurus. Roget's life was not always completely centered around this work, and I thought that the many side stories did a great job of showing us just what kind of person would think to ...more
Loved the premise of this book, but it was quite boring at times. In short, Roget was melancholic, emotionally closed off (albeit due to a chaotic childhood and mentally ill mother), and prone to bury himself in his work as an escape from life.

I was interested to learn that Roget was trained as a physician. Unlike modern physicians/doctors of today, a physician back then treated internal diseases and were the most educated and respected of the medical profession. In Roget's time, physicians com
I didn’t think the story of Peter Mark Roget war quite interesting enough to warrant such a lengthy biography. The first half of the book was really dry, depicting his upbringing under a suffocating mother, extolling the greatness of his uncle Samuel Romilly, emphasizing the family’s predisposition for melancholy and madness, and laying the foundation for Roget’s career in medicine and science. Sure, Roget made significant contributions to the scientific community, especially with his advances i ...more
I enjoy books about language and have read my fair share of them. I was excited to come across this one. My mistake was assuming that it would be arranged along the lines of The Professor and the Madman or The Meaning of Everything -- both interesting books about the development of the ultimate dictionary.

Because I'd made this assumption (I mean, it had madness in the title, right?) I started off on the wrong foot. This is much more a biography of Peter Marc Roget. And because Roget published hi
This book was given to me after my husband passed away, presumably because my friend felt that it was both a good book on grief and because of my love for linguistic reference books.

I found it fascinating on several levels, though I admit that it may have been because of where I was in my own life when I read it, as I was actively grieving.

So, from the grief aspect: When my husband died I found my own obsessive-compulsive tendencies went into overdrive. I had to find order in everything - and I
I thought this pretty interesting and easy to read, and the historical context added another dimension for understanding Roget's life. I was happy to read about the people in his life, even when they went a bit out of scope. I love language, but never knew anything about Roget or his thesaurus, and this is a great overview. I'm really intrigued and may one day read Don Emblen's more scholarly work.

As much as I liked the piece, there were many issues that took my attention away from the story. Fo
Nancy Ragno
This book is interesting primarily for its glimpses into both the history and everyday life in England from the end of the 18th century through the Victorian era. Peter Mark Roget, creator of the famous "Thesaurus," lived a long life (1779-1869)! Unfortunately, although he is known primarily for his astonishing listing and cataloging of English words and their synonyms and antonyms, Roget did not record the details of his private life, his thoughts, or his conversations. This must make it tough ...more
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