What We Are Reading Today: The Dictionary Wars by Peter Martin

Updated 01 August 2019

What We Are Reading Today: The Dictionary Wars by Peter Martin

  • The Dictionary Wars examines the linguistic struggles that underpinned the founding and growth of a nation

In The Dictionary Wars, Peter Martin recounts the patriotic fervor in the early American republic to produce a definitive national dictionary that would rival Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. 

“But what began as a cultural war of independence from Britain devolved into a battle among lexicographers, authors, scholars, and publishers, all vying for dictionary supremacy and shattering forever the dream of a unified American language,” said a review in goodreads.com.

“The Dictionary Wars examines the linguistic struggles that underpinned the founding and growth of a nation,” it added.

Critic Patricia T. O’Conner said in a review for The New York Times that Martin’s account of the dictionary feuds of the 19th century “is as lively and entertaining as the battle itself.”

The critic said: “In one corner was Noah Webster; in the other, Joseph Emerson Worcester. Both seasoned lexicographers, they realized that Americans were coining new words, using old ones in new ways and preserving usages the British had dropped.”


What We Are Reading Today: Empires of Vice by Diana S. Kim

Updated 20 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Empires of Vice by Diana S. Kim

During the late 19th century, opium was integral to European colonial rule in Southeast Asia. 

The taxation of opium was a major source of revenue for British and French colonizers, who also derived moral authority from imposing a tax on a peculiar vice of their non-European subjects. 

Yet between the 1890s and the 1940s, colonial states began to ban opium, upsetting the very foundations of overseas rule — how did this happen? Empires of Vice traces the history of this dramatic reversal, revealing the colonial legacies that set the stage for the region’s drug problems today, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Diana Kim challenges the conventional wisdom about opium prohibition — that it came about because doctors awoke to the dangers of drug addiction or that it was a response to moral crusaders — uncovering a more complex story deep within the colonial bureaucracy. 

Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence across Southeast Asia and Europe, she shows how prohibition was made possible by the pivotal contributions of seemingly weak bureaucratic officials.