"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Fifteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music!

Visit DWD's Reviews of Books, Audiobooks, Music and Video new sister blog: DWD's Reviews of Tech, Gadgets and Gizmos!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDING FATHER: NOAH WEBSTER'S OBSESSION and the CREATION of an AMERICAN CULTURE (audiobook) by Joshua Kendall



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

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 guests so it would not be fair to characterize those friendships as particularly close friendships. He did advocate strongly for the adoption of the Constitution and for a short time was actively involved in partisan politics as a newspaper editor in New York City. But, when people think Founding Father they are usually referring to far brighter lights than Noah Webster.

A 1958 stamp featuring Noah Webster
If I were naming this book I would have dropped the Forgotten Founding Father angle and kept the rest of the title "Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture." The impression left by this biography is that Webster was an obsessive and difficult man who often retreated to making lists when life became difficult. He had list of the numbers of homes in towns, distances between towns, how people died in cities - you name and he loved to categorize it, rank it, alphabetize it, write it down and stick it in a book, newspaper or magazine. In a way, his dictionary project became his ultimate list because it literally covered everything.

This book is frustrating for two reasons. The first is the subject himself. It is clear that Webster was a difficult man and this book reflects that. His letters, speeches and comments are often biting, even to his own friends and family. He creates detractors and even outright enemies throughout the book because of his obtuse ways. 

The second reason is the style of the book itself. It often dwell on obscure details and is written in a style designed drive people away from the book. Don't get me wrong, I had no problem following the book, but when you use to the word "impost" instead of tax, I'm not sure what your goal is, except to demonstrate the command of a large vocabulary. I hate to make this a jeremiad against the author, but then again he did use the word jeremiad many, many times throughout the book and I started to wonder if the author even had access to a thesaurus. According to the modern website of Webster's dictionary, he could have used much more common words like rant, tirade and harangue and made his point all the more clear to a greater part of the population. If a point could be made on one or two sentences, the author seemed bent to say it in 5 or 6 sentences instead. It was very easy to drift away from this audiobook for a minute or two and not worry about having missed much.

On a positive note, the book is well-researched and thorough. I don't regret having listened to it, but as I listened I was reminded of the David McCullough quote, "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read." The obtuse nature of the book was a lot like Webster himself and perhaps that is most appropriate.


I enjoyed Arthur Morey's reading of the The Forgotten Founding Father. He added a nice touch by reading quotes from Webster and other recurring people with different voices.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Forgotten Founding Father.

No comments:

Post a Comment