Monday, 26 November 2007


“Thou hadst better eat salt with the Philosophers of Greece, than sugar with the Courtiers of Italy.”
- Benjamin Franklin

For Book Tuesday today, I am considering an extremely interesting book that I have just finished reading. It is “Alpha to Omega: The Life and Times of the Greek Alphabet” by Alexander and Nicholas Humez. The book was re-issued in 2000 after a successful first run a few years back and it is available online. I was fortunate enough to get a used copy of the fine first edition, which is absolutely delicious in typographical quality as well as well as in content, being printed in wonderful creamy, archival, acid-free paper and using a graceful, easy to read font, the layout well designed and set. Books that are produced beautifully and with craftsmanship, as well as having good content are rarer and rarer to get nowadays.

This is the sort of non-fiction book that I love to read as every page has interesting facts, amusing anecdotes, historical trivia, engaging tangents and a solid backbone of linguistic analysis with the flesh of historical and sociological erudition. The authors take the Greek alphabet (from which the Latin and subsequently all Western alphabets are derived) and dissect it. Each chapter is devoted to a letter, beginning with alpha and ending with omega and beyond (beyond as even three disused or little used Greek letters are covered too: Koppa, Digamma and Sampi)!

Each chapter has as its starting point a few Greek words beginning with the letter which is the subject of that chapter, and these words are analysed, examined in a historical context, with the connections to other languages (but especially to English) being highlighted. The style is witty, amusing, light, digressive, but always accurate and involving, and never losing sight of the concept of the book, which is a tribute to Greek thought and civilisation through the letters of the alphabet, and of course its words.

The authors who are extremely learned and must have enjoyed the writing of this book immensely, demonstrate without doubt that “the Greeks had a word for it”; it, being everything! If you enjoy words, word origins, history, Greek myth, culture, languages or simply a good old amusing read, this book is a gem and I cannot recommend it too highly.

No comments:

Post a Comment