Today, I finished listening to The Adventure of English by Melvin Bragg.  Though I may add to this post later, here are my initial thoughts on the book.


Why I read this book: The history of the English language is one of my favorite topics.


What I liked: This is the most entertaining re-tellings of the history of English I know.

English is a beautiful mess.  We all know that.  But, it isn’t as though it was really designed to be.  It just happened.  Invasions, Exploration, Immigration and hundreds of other factors contributed to the development of the English language.

What’s astonishing is that the language of a small island at the edge of the Roman Empire ended up eventually conquering the entire planet.  The internet is a welcome edition to nearly every country on earth.  And, yet 70% of the internet is in English.


What I didn’t like:  Not much really. 

My favorite sections of the book were the sections concerning Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse and Old English.  But, that’s just a period of history I love reading about. 

My least favorite parts of the book dealt with the attempted taming of the language by the grammarians and dictionary writers of the seventeenths and eighteenths centuries.  But, that really has nothing to do with the author.  That’s just the way the history of English goes down, and it must be dealt with if you plan to write a history of the language.


Would I recommend it?

Yes.  With slight hesitation.  There are a few caveats.  The author will, from time to time, discuss the origin and histories of some of our vulgar words.  Fortunately, the author just mentions most of these words almost as an aside, and does not dwell on them.

For this particular book, I would strongly recommend the audio version.  The reader does an astonishing job bringing the various accents to life, from Old English to the accent of the Australians.  Honestly, I don’t know how he does it.   Were we to simply read this book, I am afraid much would be missed.  This is one of the rare books better performed than read.

Incidentally, the British Broadcasting Corporation produced a video series based on the book.  If you wanted an overview without all the depth of the book, you might very much enjoy the video series.   It’s older.  Filmed in the 1990’s, I believe.  Still, the content is well worth it.

The video series is available for free on YouTube.  I have linked it on this page:


Would I read it again? 

Likely.  There is so much happening in this book, it is hard to keep up.  I will definitely use it as a reference book from this point forward, and will very likely read it again