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

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  302 ratings  ·  68 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
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by Putnam Adult (first published 2011)
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(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
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
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
Brian Eshleman
This work was a significant disappointment. I approached it expecting to get a front row seat on the foundation of the creation of American culture through the words we use. I also expected to be able to appreciate a man so driven by a love for words and a love for his country that he undertook this as his life's labor.

It seems, much as I would wish it otherwise, that what drove Noah Webster to codify the language of his country was perpetual disdain for what he viewed as nonstandard English. Th
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
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??).
Moderately interesting biography of America's chief lexicographer that's marred by an overestimation of his worth to the American Revolution.

At one point the author suggests that a the handful of articles Webster wrote in support of the new Constitution was more influential than The Federalist Papers. Such "puffery" abounds. What would/should have been a more straightforward biography of a man known for his dictionary instead becomes an attempt to align him with the Founders (when he was simply
Rating and reviewing this book is a bit more difficult than most books I've read recently. I actually really enjoyed it - and yet can point to some fairly significant flaws in a book that claims to be a biography of Noah Webster as a "Forgotten Founding Father".

On the positive side, the author did well, I thought, at neither canonizing or demonizing Noah Webster. Webster was, it seems clear, a very difficult character to like. I also thought that the descriptions of Webster's traits and behavior
This is the third in my series of American history books this year. I was hoping for more intellectual history in this work, but it was more about the major life events of Noah Webster. I would've liked more discussion on the lexicographical work of Webster and more commentary on his uniqueness in this area. The book touched on a few of his strange spellings (maybe there were only a few) and did talk about specific word definitions and how Webster dealt with them at times. It did discuss Webster ...more
Peter Mayeux
The author provides an interesting, chronological insight into the life and times of Noah Webster. This narrative offers a profile of this Webster's personal and professional life, unrelated to his relative Daniel Webster. It presents a good sense of who he was -- his fears, dreams, hopes, compulsions, obsessions, and alienations. It traces his troubled psychological health as he developed this complex undertaking.

Through his work developing America's first dictionary and other related publicat
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
An informative read about the scholar who would do his upmost to shape and define American culture once the young republic emerged as an independent nation in 1783. Noah Webster was a polymath with opinions and ideas on everything. His primary fascination was language, in particular his language of English. The spirit of independence drove many ideas of separation from the mother country of England and the way American speak and spell was no different. Webster was America's Samuel Johnson, the n ...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
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
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
Powder River Rose
I've been reading this off and on for 3 weeks and it's very good in narration but the story is a bit long-winded.....that may be to reproduce the complicated nature of Noah Webster. I love words so it was a natural for me to read but it seems to go on and on with an abundance of details that may help in our understanding of the man, and is wonderful for history but can also be a bit tedious. I do think that history buffs and those interested in words would like it.
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
A decent history of a very important and infrequently addressed American historical figure... yet I wish there would have been more attention to exactly HOW Webster created his dictionary. There's a lot of detail on his other exploits and quirks, then sections about how he would get up before dawn every day and work on his dictionary. "Today I worked on R," he wrote in his journal. OK, not an exact quote, but you get the idea.
James Nozell
A easy, very interesting and revealing read! Webster's views on the importance of education ring true now just they did back then. You will be glad you took time to read this one, author has a way with words and has a great sense of humor. Hope I didn't spell anything wrong.
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
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