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A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  90 ratings  ·  13 reviews
What ties Americans to one another? What unifies a nation of citizens with different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds? These were the dilemmas faced by Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as they sought ways to bind the newly United States together.

In A is for American, award-winning historian Jill Lepore portrays seven men who turned to language
Paperback, 258 pages
Published February 4th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  90 ratings  ·  13 reviews

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Nixi Nicks
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Really enjoyed the history discussed in this book, particularly the story of Noah Webster and his quest to create the “American” language.
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
not her best. Some interesting connections between history figures that I never knew before and a few other fun facts that I have honestly already forgotten...
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Interesting piece of history, though not as cohesive as one might have hoped. Noah Webster's quest to use language and spelling as a point of differentiation from Britain was most interesting to me.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you couldn't guess from the title, this book is all about identity and how "characters in the newly United States" purposefully sought to create a distinct American identity. Think Webster's American English and the Cherokee nation's creation of syllabary.
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: linguistics
There were many things I liked about this book. But for some reason it took me almost three years to complete it - and this book accompanied me literally to the other side of the world twice... But finally, I've completed it.

If you're looking for a book that talks about the technical components of a language, pick up an actual linguistics book. A is for American is definitively a history book which deals with language, nation and identity. Lepore skillfully connects different historical events a
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Lepore does an excellent job of balancing the stories of the men she portrays alongside the broader historical and cultural context in which their innovations and communications were situated. She paints a lucid picture of how language is connected to ideology and nation, and how such a connection can result in both positive and negative attitudes toward humanity. In other words, language can work as a barrier as much as it can function as a means to foster ties.

Ben Kruskal
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting essays about cultural trends in the early US viewed through the lens of alphabets writing systems and language

Gave me some insights into the feel of intellectual/political life in 19th century US as well as more detailed knowledge of some historical figures like Noah Webster and Samuel Morse

Very well written history/culture
Tom Darrow
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A good bit of history. The author looks at early American history through the perspective of 8 linguists. Some are focused on purifying American English, some are trying to find more efficient ways of communicating worldwide and some are outsiders trying to deal with America using their own language. Overall, it's a good story of how language factored into the creation of the American country.
Jun 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: masochists
I'm reading this for a bookclub, and as a wordy nerd, I thought I'd find it super fascinating. Unfortunately, this book is DREADFULLY DULL. I'm about 50 pages in, and the author has in those 50 pages repeated the same 10 pages of material 5 times over. I got the point the first time, thanks.

So. This is a book I shall not be finishing.
Apr 01, 2009 marked it as to-read
just started reading it-so far so good
Apr 15, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scholarly-works
A somewhat interesting book on the history of writing and alphabets in the early United States. It does get a bit dry in parts though (even for me, and I'm into this sort of thing).
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intersection between American history and the cultural importance of language as identity. Each chapter covered another fascinating story, LOVED this book.
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Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard College Professor, and chair of Harvard's History and Literature Program. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best non-fiction book on race, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Name of War (Knopf, 1998), winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson P