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Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0802716798 ISBN-10: 0802716792 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716792
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716798
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Praise for 'Empires of the Word': 'It is a compelling read, one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while...a great book. After reading it you will never think of language in the same way again.' Guardian 'Learned and entertaining...remarkably comprehensive as well as thought-provoking.' Observer 'Ostler is particularly good on this linguistic fragility...This richly various book offers new insights and information for almost everyone interested in the past.' Sunday Telegraph 'A serious work of scholarship, but one that can be read from cover to cover by the amateur enthusiast...the breadth of this analysis is does its job admirably.' Spectator 'Ambitious and well-researched.' New Statesman --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Nicholas Ostler is the author of Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. He is chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages (, a charity that supports the efforts of small communities worldwide to know and use their languages more. A scholar with a working knowledge of eighteen languages, Ostler holds an M.A. from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph.D in linguistics from MIT, where he studied under Noam Chomsky. He lives in England, in Roman Bath, on the hill where Ambrosius Aurelianus defeated the Saxons for a generation.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jason Fisher on January 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Nicholas Ostler's Ad Infinitum is a thorough, illuminating history of the Latin language, following it from its birth among the other pre-Christian languages of the Mediterranean; to its adolescent contention with Etruscan and Greek on the Italian peninsula; to its maturity with Cicero, Horace, Ovid, and others; to its middle age as the progenitor of the Romance languages of continental Europe; and finally to its respected senescence as the language (now largely abandoned) of the Catholic church. Along the way, Latin became the backbone, some would say, of modern English (along with powerful Germanic and Greek influences, of course). This very paragraph is full of words drawn directly from Latin, in fact: can you find some of them? :)

The book is well written and full of fascinating tidbits I haven't encountered elsewhere. Practically every page offers some interesting insight or connection to the present day. Just a few examples: Ostler explains the origins of such taken-for-granted words as "classic", "quality", "romance", "volume", "sacrament", "bishop", and many others. Even "Latin" istelf (why isn't it Roman?). Ostler also explains how the complex grammar of Latin emerged, as well as how isolation following the collapse of the Roman Empire led to the disippation of much of that grammar, helping to give birth to modern Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other Romance languages -- all comparatively simpler in structure.

Ad Infinitum is buttressed by useful appendices on all the known Etruscan borrowings in Latin and on sound changes apparent in Latin nouns and verbs. There's also a Latin tag for each chapter, and Ostler takes an appendix to comment on them in detail.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on January 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For those who like to embellish their sentences with Latin words or phrases this book will definitely help you improve your game. For years I've used Eugene Ehrlich's AMO AMAS AMAT & MORE (Hudson Group Books), but it is only a quick reference book. Now, however, with Nicholas Ostler's book I have a better understanding of the development of Latin. Ostler has already written possibly one of the best books on the history of language:Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. In that book he wrote a history of the world with languages as the actors. In Ad Infinitum he has written a biography of one of those key players: namely, Latin.

Prior to the 3rd century BC, Latin co-existed with many other languages on the Italian peninsula: Ligurian, Umbrian, Etruscan, Oscan, to name a few. From Ostler's examples it looks as if those languages were very similar to Latin. So what happened in the life of Latin that caused it to emerge as the preeminent language, first on the peninsula, then ultimately throughout the known world?

Ostler offers three explanations as to why Latin prevailed. The first, of course, is that Rome was an imperial power. As the Roman army conquered new lands and peoples is left local cultures and languages undisturbed as long as they paid tribute to Rome. This is the modus operandi of successful empires. The administrators of the newly conquered regions spoke Latin, making it the language of power and prestige. This was a great incentive for locals to learn the language over time.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Loves Latin on February 27, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, I must conclude that this book is unsuitable for Kindle. Actually, I enjoyed the book itself very much, but had to obtain a print copy in order to do so. The Kindle version is literally loaded with typos. In addition, the many tables containing text in both Latin and English are treated as illustrations, and even when zoomed are too faint and small to read for the most part. There are so many footnotes and end notes that the somewhat cumbersome Kindle process for accessing them became quite tiresome.
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93 of 115 people found the following review helpful By M. Cotone on April 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A quirky, idiosyncratic introduction to the history of the Latin language. What purports to be a history of the language begins with the author's assumption that the Romans were from the first political, military, cultural and linguistic imperialists (perhaps not all that surprising in a student of Chomsky?). That in turn requires him to rewrite the history of Rome in and outside of Italy in ways which can only provoke raised eyebrows, and snickers, among Roman historians. The result of that first misstep is a prolonged exercise in history rewritten to substantiate theory: badly rewritten, too, with bloopers which run the gamut from from ancient (that Gaius Marius created a standing army for Rome) to the modern (that the Catholic Church no longer uses Latin in its liturgy). The unfortunate result is that there really is little room for the history of the Latin language. There are, amidst the historical theorizing, some interesting nuggets of information about Latin, but they are buried in far too much sand and detritus to make the effort of digging them out worthwhile.
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