I'm always a fool for a study of the English language, so this book basically leaped off the library shelf and into my arms. It's nowhere near as in-depth as David Crystal's excellent work The Stories of English, but it functions very well as a simple if fairly detailed examination of the history and spread of English. For those who enjoy the study of language history but don't want to get too far into the nitty-gritty of phonetics and advanced linguistics, this is a great alternative to a number of English language books available today.
Bragg begins at the beginning, with what we now call "Old" English or (perhaps more correctly) Anglo-Saxon and moves forward, taking care to discuss many of the divergences along the way (American English or South African English falling into this category). What I found particularly interesting is that he also discusses the importance of certain literary figures and works that have placed an indelible mark on English: Chaucer, Shakespeare, and William Tyndale's Bible being among the most significant. Obviously, Chaucer and Shakespeare come to mind, but I was pleasantly surprised to read the chapter about Tyndale, because I hadn't really considered how his specific translation has had such a lasting influence on certain phrases and expressions that are now inextricably a part of our language.
Of course, the most interesting part of The Adventure of English is the way that Bragg points out particular words and where they came from. For instance, I had no idea that "gung-ho" was originally a Chinese expression meaning "work together" or that "lilac" originally comes to us from India (I mean, is there anything that seems more English than a lilac?) but I cannot describe how much I love finding out this sort of thing. For me, it adds a new dimension to my history in the same way that seeing a picture of my great-great-grandmother and recognizing certain similar features in my own face does.
I can happily recommend The Adventure of English highly with the small complaint that it isn't really long enough and that I could have spent another one hundred pages learning about word histories. But as it is, this is an excellent starter book for English language history and a great deal of fun as well.
Year of publication: 2003
Number of pages: 322