Jen Bryant's The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Book review by Kristin Peck
The Right Word is an educational read about Peter Mark Roget - the author of the most famous thesaurus still in print to this day.
Starting out with a short timeline of his life, the book goes into details about the loss of his father, an overbearing mother, and a love worth waiting for (he was 45 years old before he married and became a father).
This book documents how Roget spent his life almost obsessively writing down lists of words into different categories. He put them all in a book that he would refer to when he was in need of just the right word, such as, when he when he prepared to give a speech in front of hundreds of people.
These lists would be written about different events in his life, or different emotions that he was having at any certain time. A word like "worry" was not good enough to describe what he wanted to say. So he would list multiple versions of just that word and find contentment in the variety.
He would list words for the elements, or for vegetables in the garden. There were more words for dark and light!
"Peter is always scribbling!" his mother would exclaim.
Roget's story is an inspirational tale for those who take recording written words as seriously as a doctor takes his patients' health; coincidentally Roget cared about both! Passing all of his examinations by 19 years old, Roget was a very young doctor, but because of his age he was not taken seriously, and therefore, waited until he was older before he officially started practicing.
Across the glossy pages, the actual original lists that Roget recorded are displayed in beautiful, colorful arrangements. While it may be interesting/difficult trying to read some of the Latin words out loud, it is a creatively engineered way to introduce one's child to the many different forms of the written word (the English translation accompanies each Latin word).
In the back of the book, there is a List of Principal Events that occurred throughout Roget's life in a lot more detail than the shortened version in the beginning of the book. It includes interesting facts like how Roget wrote the first Encyclopedia entry for Kaleidoscopes because his friend was the one that patented them, or how he wrote one of the "founding principles of modern cinematography or movies" due to his paper about "optical illusion."
While a slow read, if one takes the time to fully absorb what is being offered within these pages, this book will be found to be a true treasure. Since writing is such an important aspect of life, and so many reach for a thesaurus, whether it is in book or electronic format, it is nice to see the origins of something we take for granted.
The Right Word - Roget and His Thesaurus shows that it was the life work of one man that brought a tool into existence that has been used for generations passed, and will continued to be used for generations to come.
Webmaster's note: Bryant and Sweet also collaborated on A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (reviewed on this site), another true tale of a doctor/wordsmith.
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