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

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  497 ratings  ·  92 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 h
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published April 14th 2011 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published 2011)
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3.51  · 
Rating details
 ·  497 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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Jun 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
(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
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 11, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
You learn a lot of detail of Webster’s life in this biography. Much of what you learn isn’t flattering to the dictionary scion. He comes across as a fellow who thinks he should always be the center of attention, and acts increasingly bizarrely when he feels he isn’t getting his due. He is obsessed with a series of things in his life, revolving around his books, magazines, and newspapers. These are initially aimed at literature-loving colonists, later becoming news and political organs and weapon ...more
Brian Eshleman
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
May 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
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.
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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??).
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was a bit of a disappointment. While I am glad I read it and it was filled with interesting information about Webster's life, it missed some critical points explaining why the 1828 is such a treasure.

The 1828 is unique in that it is not a dictionary of common usage. Webster's effort was to elevate the American language based on the usage and meaning in the bible. He was familiar enough with the King James to have made his own revision.

The 1828 is an invaluable resource for students o
Jun 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Complete bio of Noah Webster, including his obsession and work over the American Dictionary of the English Language. Some really fun tidbits in here, especially about his completely amateur and embarassing attempts at etymology, his compulsive drive to create a definitive dictionary, run ins with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and the overall lifestyle of these "first Americans" (white, male, middle class, educated), but I wish overall the book was tighter.
Charles Areson
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though I do not think anyone would want their child to be a Noah Webster, it was refreshing to see a person with as many flaws, idiocracies, varying opinions, still able to make a difference in the world. In spite of his issues, he did seem to die at peace. Not a typical American hero story, I was glad that I took the time to read it. I recommend it for all the "Monks" (a character in a TV mysteries) or the world.
This book on the famous lexicographer, Noah Webster, Jr., gave lots of information in a very pleasant style to read. Giving time to both the assets and detriments of his personality, it seemed to be a fairly honest, balanced portrayal of Webster as a person. There were many ways he contributed to America in the early years that I was not aware of before reading this account of his life. If you are a history buff, this is a very interesting read.
Feb 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
Checked this out as an audiobook from the library. One review I saw was very accurate. It said this book has parts that are interesting but as a whole it’s very boring. My loan expired after chapter 8 and I didn’t care about the book enough to renew it.
Renae Feathers
Feb 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
I REALLY wanted to like this book. While it has great detail about his life, it’s offered in a dry, clinical, boring manner. It’s just a recitation of a timeline of facts with a lot of name-dropping. I honestly couldn’t even finish reading it.
Becky Lockwood
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Top notch history - I loved Webster's involvement in the creation of our country and his connection to Amherst and Emily Dickinson.
Marguerite Czajka
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting bio of a somewhat unlikable man. I don't think he was really one of the founding fathers, he just lived at the same time.
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio, dnf
Didn't finish. Some people just irritate you, and as it happened, Webster was one for me.
Tina Panik
This reads like a resume: you’ll learn what Webster did, but not much about he really was. Disappointing.
J.S. Green
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
All the classrooms in my elementary school had windows along one side of the room, and beneath the windows was a deep counter over deep bookshelves. As I recall, about 35-40 dictionaries lined the shelves in each room - more than one for each student. They were the Webster's kind with the red cover, although I always thought they were pink (probably because they were a bit faded). But no one ever thought about the work that must go into *making* a dictionary.

Noah Webster was born in 1758 in Con
Gabriel Fuhrman
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
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

James Mcentire
Aug 24, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Chris Burd
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
Jan 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Review of the Audiobook

Published by Penguin Audio in 2011
Read by Arthur Morey
Duration: 12 hours, 45 minutes

Referring to Noah Webster (1753-1848), the creator of the famed Webster Dictionary, as a Founding Father is generous, to say the least. He did live serve in the Connecticut militia, even deploying at one point, but he never saw much action. He did know many of the Founding Fathers and actually stayed in the homes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, but they had frequent
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I gave it a 4 star rating overall but my feelings were up and down all throughout this book. It was exciting to learn so much about the founding of our country through the life of Noah Webster and as a result, I am now adding "spend a day in the New York Public Library Rare Books Section" to my life's bucket list (maybe I can fit it in on our US History road trip). In my opinion, every English major should read this book. Noah Webster's life story and his great work is quite impressive. He is th ...more
Oct 31, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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
May 04, 2011 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
Loren Shultz
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
The accounting of Webster's life was well done but the life itself not so much
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“Too low for the sublimity of my genius and the elegant taste of N. Webster.” 0 likes
“For Webster, too, counting could help mitigate the angst that lurked within.” 0 likes
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