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on March 28, 2018
The book was FASCINATING. Also the author's theories on while languages spread or died out were interesting.
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on March 8, 2018
It's a fascinating look at history. Through language, Oster paints a map and a timeline of cultural change across the world. The many surprising, delightful details one comes to realize are both, fun, and eye opening. The book really helps in understanding the world better. It's for some tangents that seem like rabbit holes, but they usually have a point, albeit not anyways one worth the trouble
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on March 2, 2018
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on February 13, 2018
Deep exploration of linguistic history.
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on February 11, 2018
Great topic, but too bad its text is difficult to read. Either poor English skills of author, or horrible editing by the publisher. Better to wait for an improved edition.
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on February 10, 2018
Oster's knowledge of his subject is impressive and vast, his consideration of questions balanced and thorough. He describes the worldwide spread and retreat of languages under the pull of religious, commercial, linguistic and military forces. His history is well-documented. He is entirely open to saying that we don't know what happened with some particular question.

His strengths, which are considerable, are perhaps his weaknesses. The breadth and detail of the book are so extensive that I, as one general reader, have little expectation of retaining much of what I read. I might have been more interested, for instance in some focus on a seemingly notable point, that Phoenician appears to have been the origin of all alphabets. This is the more intriguing because virtually no Phoenician records survive. Ostler passes it off with a single phrase, a casual mention in the middle of discussion of another point.

A reader with more specialized interests and and a broader background that I have might consider this worldwide history superb and indispensable.
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on November 25, 2017
He refers to the western part of Palestine. There has never been a country called Palestine. Does he mean the western part of Gaza, or the western part of the West Bank (of the river Jordan) or Western Israel? If he means the entire western coast of Israel, is he using the current borders of Israel or ancient borders?

I just wanted to understand the sentence he wrote.

Maybe if I shared his politics I could make an informed guess, but writing a book with code phrases that can only be understood by certain people shows a twisted attitude toward pursuit (and sharing) of knowledge. I'm not going to research and guess about what he could have easily and clearly stated.

He should have just inserted a map. I was trying to read a book, not watch him grind his axe with Israel.
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on October 29, 2017
Not particularly readable - cannot recommend it to the non-specialist
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on October 25, 2017
I will never forget this book. It is full of fascinating information which will change how I view language forever but....ironically it's own language was painfully clunky. It was also difficult to ascertain any system of presenting quotes which are an important part of the book. Boxes, inconsistent indentations and others are all here but with quotation marks rare and everything mixed together.
Electronically it was a frustrating to negotiate the author's system of asterisks and other unusual symbols to mark his interjections that followed each chapter. I finally gave up and read the whole mass at the end of each chapter. I missed a lot but it was better than searching for my place over and over.
The end notes were equally frustrating.
I think that this may be just the beginning for Nicholas Ostler and I will read his future books but NOT ON KINDLE TILL HE GETS EDITING HELP.
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I would give this book 4 stars, it was a good read. But I had something of an issue with the production of the KINDLE version of the book. I'll get to that at the end of the review.

In his introduction Nicholas Ostler says that his book is not a history of languages nor a comparative analysis of similarities and differences. But there is some of both in here. The focus, about which he says this is the first book, is a sociological examination of the regional (and eventually global) rise and fall of languages. His aim is understanding what factors, geographic, political, military, economic, and psychological, contribute (positively and negatively) to the history (rise, spread, maintenance, decline) of specific languages from antiquity to the present. Ostler goes back as far as the earliest writing. He covers the world from all of Far Eastern Asia (north and south), around to South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. With each group, he goes as far back as known writing allows and brings the languages forward to the present, mapping geopolitical events (world history) to their effect on the peoples of the regions (natives and interlopers) down to the present day.

This huge scope takes a lot of time. But the book is not as long as it appears as the text proper ends at the 76% point, the rest of it taken up by the end-notes which are copiously sprinkled (as links) through the text. This is nothing if not a scholarly work. One technical quibble, there are both "end notes" proper, and "end chapter notes" using different symbol sets (numbers for the end notes, '*', and other symbols for the chapter notes). But there are not enough symbols to cover the number of chapter notes and they must be repeated within a chapter. Moreover, while in most chapters, the chapter notes are properly linked in the text, in a few they are not.

In the end, Ostler is not able to cull the variety of language-impinging factors down to a few rules that predict what will happen to a given language. Given the geographic (world) and historical (7,000 years) scope of the work this is not surprising. No single language arc seems to have duplicated any other. No matter the various "similar factors", in each case there are also plenty of differences, and between the two lies an endless variation resulting in far more exceptions than examples of similar forces having similar effects. Nevertheless, the book does give one a sense of how the influences play out historically, the most important being the size of the language speaking population, the security of their regional political control, their geographic placement in the world, their placement in the history of technology. This was a long read to get to tentative and very generalized conclusions, but I think in this case there isn't much more that can be said. The book does a service by carefully evaluating the significance of the various factors impacting language evolution and geographic dispersion. I don't think Ostler has discovered anything new here, but he does well illustrate the impact of interaction between operative factors in broad historical periods.

I admire Ostler for taking on a really hard problem and making some sense of it, but the book's production (at least the Kindle version) was not up to the task. This is a subject that demands maps and figures. Strangely, the book refers to maps and figures only two or three times in the [long] body of the text. Worse, there weren't any maps or figures anywhere to be found in this Kindle version. Even the few he references, were just not there. Of course I cannot speak for their presence or absence in the hard copy versions, but I do not think there is any excuse for leaving them out of the electronic version. What is going on here? I do not know, but the lack of visual aids here takes a lot away from the value of the book.
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