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Henry Hitchings's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Henry Hitchings recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Henry Hitchings's favorite book recommendations of all time.

Yeats once wrote of a poem, saying he had made it out of a mouthful of air. Burgess advances this point by presenting a fascinating survey of language--how it operates, and how it will develop in the future--that ranges from Shakespearean pronunciation to the place of English in the world family of languages. less
Recommended by Henry Hitchings, and 1 others.

Henry HitchingsBurgess, to me, is a remarkable polymath. One of the problems is that he wrote so much that there’s almost too much to grapple with. His amazing capacity for being apparently a master of so many disciplines led some people to say he was “a jack of all trades, a master of none”. I certainly think his shares have declined since his death. I suppose one of the things which links together the books... (Source)

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History in English Words

Owen Barfield's original and thought-provoking works over three-quarters of a century made him a legendary cult figure. History in English Words, his classic historical excursion through the English language, is now back in print after five years.

This popular book provides a brief, brilliant history of those who have spoken the Indo-European tongues. It is illustrated throughout by current English words—whose derivation from other languages, whose history in use and changes of meaning—record and unlock the larger history.

"In our language alone, not to speak of its many...
Recommended by Henry Hitchings, and 1 others.

Henry HitchingsHe was a very wide-ranging amateur scholar of a type that we don’t tend to have any more. Maybe because he was a solicitor for a significant part of his life, he didn’t have to genuflect before the pieties of academia and could pursue the things that interested him. He has the rigour of an academic scholar but the romantic sympathy of a creative writer. (Source)

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Recommended by Henry Hitchings, and 1 others.

Henry HitchingsIt’s a good book to segue onto after Empires of the Word. In a sense it says the same thing, but by a different means. Drysdale clearly feels that we should care about dying or moribund languages, for the same reason that we should care when a species of plant or animal dies and the diversity of our planet is reduced. (Source)

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An unusual and authoritative 'natural history of languages' that narrates the ways in which one language has superseded or outlasted another at different times in history. The story of the world in the last five thousand years is above all the story of its languages. Some shared language is what binds any community together, and makes possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it. Yet, the history of the world's great languages has rarely been examined. Empires of the Word is the first to bring together the tales in all their glorious variety: the amazing innovations - in... more
Recommended by Henry Hitchings, and 1 others.

Henry HitchingsIt’s a history of all languages – some have called it a macro-history. The ambition of this book is really extraordinary. There have been lots of histories of English, and there are lots of histories of other languages in those languages, but actually to try and write a history of the whole of language is an incredibly audacious thing, and Ostler pulls it off. (Source)

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In The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Steven Pinker looks at how the relationship between words and thoughts can help us understand who we are.

Why do so many swear words involve topics like sex, bodily functions or the divine? Why do some children's names thrive while others fall out of favour? Why do we threaten and bribe and seduce in such elaborate, often comical ways? How can a choice of metaphor damn a politician or start a war? And why do we rarely say what we actually mean?

Language, as Steven Pinker shows, is at the heart...

Dominic Steil[One of the books that had the biggest impact on .] (Source)

Melissa MohrThis is about language more generally, but it has a great chapter on swearing. It’s a really good shorter summary, where he hits all the highlights about swearing and physiology in terms of how it works in the brain and the effects it has on your body. (Source)

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