So many books to read, so little time.

A Jewel Amid The Floatsam of Mothballed Books

with 5 comments

My bookshelf is lined with the remnants of a pursuit of a Masters in history. Literally hundreds of books read only once, marked for reference, and citations culled for a long forgotten assignment, now wait to receive a weekly dusting. My wife used to inquire after each semester. “Aren’t you going to sell them back, what good are they to you now?” I would reply I needed to keep them for reference for my final dissertation and them I would get rid of them.

Today, two years after graduating they still line the bookshelf and now have overflowed to boxes in my college bound son’s unused bedroom. My excuse now is that I need them for reference for the history classes I teach and if they don’t actually cover the current subject I am teaching, they are in mothballs for a pending to be named, history course.

One of the books amid this slowing decaying binding of dead trees is a book that has retained it’s value as a treasure of historical lore.

 Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler, is a jewel of a read. Professor Ostler is descibed by his publisher as a scholar with a working knowledge of twenty-six languages, degrees from Oxford, in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics. and a Ph.D in Linguistics from MIT.

His book when published in 2005 was the first attempt to compile a history of all the great languages of the world into one book. Since it publication it has drawn praise from countless sources. My introduction came by way of a reading seminar in Medieval history where the professor included it as part of 22 books we were assigned to read that semester. I fell in love with this book because it added a new source to trace our shared global history and gave credence to the importance of language to the growth of civilization.

Ostler’s depth of scholarship is amply evident but he never lets the reader sink into academic dogma. Each chapter and there are many, are supported with maps and snippets of the written tongue to illustrate the course of it’s history.

If providing a history is not challenging enough, Ostler attempts to look into the future by discussing the current top twenty languages and then looking ahead at what languages will flourish and which will die.

Over the past two year I have returned occaisonly to cop a citation from it’s now frayed pages. The invitation to this blog stimulated me to take it down and begin to reread it and savor Ostler’s insightful take on how history developed through the spread of language.


Written by historyguy99

October 20, 2008 at 1:28 am

Posted in Nonfiction

Tagged with

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Adding that to my anti-library now.

    Adam Elkus

    October 21, 2008 at 3:03 am

  2. Agreed absolutely about Ostler. I read it and it blew my mind. It was a completely new angle on all of world history. I rarely re-read books — time is tight — but that is a candidate for a re-read.

    Lexington Green

    October 22, 2008 at 6:45 am

  3. I bought it in Cosmos Books in Hong Kong a year ago to read on the flight home and wound up leaving it behind. Now that it has finally made it to America along with my wife, the strong recommendation by yourself & Lexington Green strongly pushes me to read it this weekend. Thank you!


    October 22, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  4. Je suis pour! C’est parfait.


    October 24, 2008 at 5:42 am

  5. merci pour le grand commentaire.


    October 25, 2008 at 4:55 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: