The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  235 ratings  ·  56 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 hi...more
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Putnam Adult (first published 2011)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
True Blend by Joanne DeMaioSnowflakes and Coffee Cakes by Joanne DeMaioUntil the Robin Walks on Snow by Bernice L. RocqueBlue Jeans and Coffee Beans by Joanne DeMaioWhole Latte Life by Joanne DeMaio
Set in Connecticut
46th out of 46 books — 28 voters
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene HanffReading Lolita in Tehran by Azar NafisiThe Library by Sarah StewartFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Books about books and libraries
163rd out of 359 books — 88 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 798)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
(full review appears at the Washington Independent Review of Books)

I don’t like Noah Webster. He’s arrogant and antisocial. He’s obsessive-compulsive and anal-retentive. He’s a shameless self-promoter, a notorious griper and, later in life, a pious blowhard. And as Joshua Kendall shows us in his fine biography Forgotten Founding Father, those were exactly the kinds of traits that made Noah Webster so good at what he did. Indeed, as a compulsive compiler and hunter and gatherer of information, We...more
Jenny Brown
It's refreshing to read a biography of someone who isn't well known to the general reader. This book brings alive the world of New England from the period of the revolution through the 1840s, giving us a sense of how a life could unfold throughout that period. Webster was involved with most of the people who shaped America's government and culture throughout his lifetime, and of course, he too ended up in their number.

What keeps me from giving this book 5 stars is that Kendall did not support th...more
Firstly, not every man who picked up a pen around the time of the American Revolution is a forgotten founding father. This is most certainly true of Noah Webster Jr. who may have been the 18th century equivalent of the crazy old man who calls the local news station everyday.
Secondly, this book was about as interesting as choosing between bisque and eggshell paint. While there were moments that piqued interest they couldn't be maintained.
Anyway, I hope my next non-fiction selection is better tha...more
I have enjoyed reading biographies of founding fathers and mothers (John Adams by David McCullough; Benjamin Franklin, an American Life by Walter Isaacson; Founding Mothers, the Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts.) So I assumed I would find equal enjoyment in reading The Forgotten Founding Father, Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture. I did enjoy learning about this fascinating man who made amazing contributions to the growth of America as an independent nat...more
I wish someone else had written this book. Kendall is a seriously flawed writer. He seems to have done a lot of research, but not enough in all areas. I think he made some broad conclusions about Webster's character (neurotic, ocd?)and influence (articulating "american culture" for the first time?) in order to start writing his book, but he doesn't support his conclusions. And he jumps around in time way too much!

Since I have so many ancestors who lived in New England at teh same time, I did fin...more
Cindy Barnett
Webster's habits provide insight into why he did things, as well as, why his children were as they were. Habitually counting & other habits (Aspergers, slight autism??).
I've read little about Noah Webster. He was a native of Connecticut. He significantly impacted how Americans thought about themselves post Revolution and encouraged the adoption of the constitution over the original confederation which granted much less power to the centralized government. He considered Franklin and metor and Washington an admirer. He ran a news magazine/newspaper for several years with the first daily newspaper in New York. He was one of the most prolifican authors of his time....more
DULL. Some parts were super interesting, but for the most part the author skips around in his narrative and just doesn't really have a gift for writing history, in my opinion.
Ruth Ann
I listened to this book on CD while driving. Many parts were pretty dry with all the facts about Noah Webster's life that the author wanted to convey. I did not find Mr. Webster to be a particularly admirable man except for his perseverance in finally completing his dictionary after years of working on it. In fact, Noah Webster seems to have had psychological problems that hindered his relationships with other people, especially his family. However, at the time he lived, from 1758 to 1843, men r...more
This was an interesting book. A good biographical sketch of Noah Webster. Although the author alludes to it, he never quite comes out and admits that NW was probably a garden variety OC with a stern, strict, and somewhat puritanical New Englander's view of everything. I don't fault NW for this in any way, he was who he was. In fact, if he were not of such a nature his dictionaries might never have become what they are today.

I take some exception to the title of the book as somewhat misleading bu...more
Margaret Sankey
Publishers have insisted on entirely too many "Forgotten Founding Father" titles--George Whitfield,John Winthrop, John Varick are all candidates. Kendall's biography of Noah Webster is actually more about the cultural side of the new republic, from the pressure cooker of New England intellectualism (the sheer number of Webster's Yale classmates who had nervous breakdowns, were anorexic, attempted suicide or achieved it is staggering), sectional differences, local public lectures, powerful minist...more
John Harder
Noah Webster was a genius, and if you need confirmation of this, you should just ask him. Ego is rarely an appealing quality, but at least Noah had the attribute of being a prickly hypochondriac to fall back upon.

Mr. Webster had the good fortune of being able to direct his worst personal qualities and neurosis into productive activity. Words were like a balm to his nervous disposition – when he felt anxious he would fill a tub full of adjectives, take a long soak and towel off with a spelling b...more
This book has history, writing, and language all rolled into one! I found Webster’s struggles to find his way in life particularly inspiring and encouraging. He spent most of his youth just trying to earn enough money to support his family. He was uncertain of his path and unsure of his choices. If he turned out OK – maybe there’s hope for the rest of us! Webster seems less like an exalted, untouchable founding father, and more like a regular guy who just happens to be a lexicographer-genius!

James Mcentire
This is the first extensive reading I have done on Noah Webster. The author, in my estimation, was only moderately successful in his attempt to give a truly historical assessment of this very influential man. I think the definition of Founding Father has to be stretched to include Noah Webster in that group. Unless of course you count everyone of that generation as a Founding Father. I don't think knowing and having met some of the Founding Fathers qualifies one for being a Founding Father. He w...more
Gabriel Fuhrman
Oct 13, 2013 Gabriel Fuhrman rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: American History Enthusiast Obsessed with the Colonial/Revolutionary time period
Recommended to Gabriel by: Mom

Noah Webster: commonly thought of as the author of Webster's Dictionary was more than your typical colonist. Joshua Kendall's drawn out Biography into the life of Noah Webster not only provides an imperviously detailed exposition into the life of the lexicographer but it also accomplishes it's goal described in the title by portraying him as a man who was "obsessed with the creation of an American culture."

Aside from the Dictionary, Kendall makes effort to show Webster's other contributions to s

May 04, 2011 Shinynickel marked it as to-read
Off this review:

This is a full biography of Webster, not just an examination of his most famous work, and in fact it's not until about two-thirds of the way through the book that we see his dictionary begin to take shape. Logophiles may skim through the earlier stages of Webster's life to get to the good stuff, but they will miss out on the foundation of Kendall's compelling argument; namely that his masterpiece would never have been completed if it weren...more
Once before I read a biography of Noah Webster (my 14th great cousin or something like that). This one is much more thorough; it deals with his psychological compulsions, motivations and why his genius was able to help establish American identity in the republic’s early stages by means of language publications. He was only marginally financially successful at this until at age 59 a generous royalty deal for his American Spelling Book enabled him to devote full time to the task of preparing a com...more
Jun 24, 2014 Ange rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: audio
Noah boring, Reader boring, Author boring. Now that I am nearing the end, there are a few good noteworthy things about Noah. He sheltered cats. And he became a Calvinist. Don't know how good a Calvinist, but he did pray. He was also a devoted grandpa.
I would say that this book is 90% information I had never heard about Noah Webster, so it was very interesting and presented in a very readable, engaging way. I had no idea he was contemporaries with Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, etc., or that he was so involved in politics and shaping the wonderful nation we have today. What an amazing man. I also appreciated the author's willingness to discuss Webster's faults, as it made him feel so much more real. But man, what a difficult man he would ha...more
Well-written interesting book, it's not the author's fault the protagonist isn't more interesting. I picked up this book because I was interested in Webster's role in defining American identity. I did get some insight into that but this book is really more about a very slightly unbalanced individual and how that unbalance led to titanic but occasionally pointless works of literature (dictionaries based on his own imagined historical connections between languages). It's a good example of how bein...more
Who would believe that Noah Webster – yes, the ‘Dictionary Guy’ – had such an important role in the founding of the United States? Well, this book proves it!

Kendall presents an extensive portrait of the life and influence of Noah Webster. The man was a bit of a control freak (I guess you’d have to be to single-handedly create the American dictionary), but also an amazing self-promoter. Webster was friend to Washington, consulted by many of the Founders, and really helped defined what it meant t...more
Tim Chavel
This book is about the life of Noah Webster. It tells much about the era that is lived. The book is interesting but gets blogged down every once in a while. I bought this book for $1.00 at the borders going out of business sale. It was marked originally at $26.95. The dictionary Webster wrote took many, many years. His was not the first "American" dictionary but as we all know it is by far the most famous. The author paints Webster as a person that is hard to like. He (Webster) has many negative...more
its not a fun read ....but if you like history like me its orgasmic
I love words and have recently become interested in early American history, so this offered a delightful, well-researched combination of those topics. My only gripe is that the author's syntax is severely lacking in variety, which gets tiresome sometimes. One of the themes of the book that intrigued me the most was the idea that Noah Webster succeeded in creating his magnum opus not despite of but because of his mental illness.
This book was okay. I didn't know a lot about him, but it looked interesting in flipping through it in the store. To call him a "founding father" seems a bit of a stretch, since he was only in his late 20s then, didn't really have anything to do with either the Declaration or Constitution, and essentially just wrote some pamphlets in support of the cause. That said, it was pretty interesting to read about him.

overall, it was okay.
Oct 29, 2013 Linda rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Bill read
Shelves: audio, chcpl
There is a lot more to Noah Webster than the dictionary. He butted heads with most of the easily recognizable founding fathers including Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Also interesting tidbits about how spelling has changed, but not just a book about words or how the dictionary got done. Astonishing price that Webster got for the publication of his life's work.
I loved the book, but bore with the narration.
For the word obsessed, this was an interesting book and topic, but it was a bit tough to get through. The author seemed to want to show off how many words he could use ("polymath" appears multiple times). He also didn't sugarcoat that Noah Webster was a bit an arrogant jerk, which is problematic when reading a biography. But it did supply a different context to Revolutionary War-era America which was interesting.
Diane Kennicker
Interesting book about Noah Webster and how he obsessed with compiling the dictionary. He was a part of some of the most significant events in American history. NW believed that the English language would help to unify the people of the newly founded United States.
He wasn't really a stellar success story during his life but he managed well enough. NW added much to the dictionary other than definitions.
Since Mr Kendall didn't actually know Noah Webster, he made some generalizations about his personality which may or may not be true. These made me believe he did not actually like Webster. I quit reading this partway through because Kendall's dislike for Webster made me wonder why I should give up precious time reading about him.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 26 27 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • John Marshall: Definer of a Nation
  • American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America
  • Samuel Adams: A Life
  • The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States
  • Henry Clay: The Essential American
  • Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made
  • John Adams: A Life
  • Lion of Liberty: The Life and Times of Patrick Henry
  • The Language Wars: A History of Proper English
  • James Madison
  • David Crockett: The Lion of the West
  • Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
  • The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson
  • First Family: Abigail and John Adams
  • Tories
  • Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies
  • Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr
  • The 10 Big Lies About America: Combating Destructive Distortions About Our Nation
The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus America's Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation Psychological Trauma and the Developing Brain: Neurologically Based Interventions for Troubled Children

Share This Book