Reviews of Jack Lynch's Books

This is a selection of highlights from the reviews I've received on my books. I'm happy that (so far) I've received no unambiguously negative reviews (though a few have had their reservations). If you doubt me, you can see a complete list of all the reviews on my curriculum vitae.

A Bibliography of Johnsonian Studies

Lynch expands the scope of material covered in previous Johnson bibliographies by including book reviews, MA theses, and a comprehensive list of dissertations, graphics, and electronic media. . . . His bibliography compiles more than a decade of Johnsonian scholarship and provides an easy means to track the direction such scholarship is taking. Recommended for all academic libraries.

— R. Stuhr, Choice 38, no. 8 (April 2001): 4208


The Age of Elizabeth in the Age of Johnson

An original and major contribution to the reader's understanding of eighteenth-century cultural identity.

The New Rambler


Cultures define themselves through comparisons to previous cultures, even if they have to reinterpret historical detail to do so. Using Samuel Johnson and his contemporaries as intellectual benchmarks, Lynch . . . examines 18th-century views of the 16th century and persuasively demonstrates that the Elizabethan Age provided a standard against which Britons of the Augustan Age could measure their own national character.

— E. J. Jenkins, Choice 41, no. 1 (Sept. 2003): 0531


Lynch writes appealingly. . . . The subject is not Elizabeth herself, but the historiographical consideration of “the Age of Elizabeth” as the “golden age” of English poetry, during the eighteenth century and particularly as it was reinforced in scattered comments by Samuel Johnson. . . . [An] impeccable and fascinating account.

R. S. White, Notes & Queries 51, no. 2 (June 2004): 196—98


Lynch makes a strong case for Johnson's importance in the creation of the literary Renaissance. . . . The project of this book, then, which is to detail the construction of the idea of the Renaissance in Enlightenment England, is very much about how Johnson helped define the age of Elizabeth, and it is about how very different the eighteenth century's age of Elizabeth was from our own early modern period. . . . Lynch does a fine job of tracing the age of Elizbeth in the age of Johnson.

— Paul Budra, Renaissance Quarterly 57, no. 2


Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

Here is a real treat for word lovers: 3,100 selections from Dr. Johnson's historic dictionary, with definitions, etymologies and usage illustrations. . . . To buss is charmingly defined as “To kiss; to salute with the lips.” And laced mutton, readers learn, is “an old word for a whore.” . . . In his introduction, Lynch . . . dispels the myth that this was the first dictionary. It was, however, the first standard dictionary, the one used by Wordsworth, Austen and George Eliot — and this edition of it is fascinating.

Publishers Weekly, 15 July 2003


Lynch's abridgement should appeal strongly to readers wishing to enjoy the Dictionary as literature. Lynch . . . includes an informative introduction, useful notes, Johnson's “Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language,” and indexes to Shakespearean citations, to other literary citations, and to “Piquant Terms” by category. Even the typography is appealing, with an elegant font and decorative flourishes. Pleasant for browsing and potentially useful for scholars.

— W. L. Svitavsky, Choice 41, no. 4 (Dec. 2003): 1888


Here comes Dr Lynch of Rutgers University with a selection, 500 pages, but still a selection, of the original 42,773 words. He has added a first-rate essay on dictionary writing in general and the qualities of this one in particular. . . . A lexicographer, says Johnson, is “a harmless drudge”; Dr Lynch is a guide to the Labyrinth. . . . Think what enjoyable words, brisk and grandiloquent, we have lost: rorifluent, slubberdegullion, trubtail, umbles, vastidity and yux. What a superb work — for education, scholarship, inquiry, gloating and fun — Dr Lynch has given us.

— Edward Pearce, The Herald (Glasgow), 27 Nov. 2004


The perfect yuletide gift for a word lover has just come to hand. It's a beautifully designed abridged edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755. A better browser would be hard to find.

— James J. Kilpatrick, Chicago Sun-Times, 21 July 2002


The wealth of English, along with the genius of one of its greatest writers, is on vibrant display. . . . Edited by Johnson scholar Jack Lynch, this handsome volume offers a generous and highly entertaining sampling of the original work. It's a vivid snapshot of the vocabulary and culture of two and a half centuries ago. . . . Macaulay called Johnson's “the first dictionary which could be read with pleasure” — and while the language has changed, the pleasure remains.

— Michael Potemra, National Review, 13 Oct. 2003


This is the great pleasure of such a book, the way it returns language to us, expanding our ideas of what, exactly, English is. Partly, that's because of Lynch, who, his own reservations to the contrary — “No abridgment,” he writes, “can do justice to Johnson's Dictionary” — makes this monumental work manageable.

— David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times, 9 Sept. 2003


Those who take pleasure in words about words will find their taste gratified by a new selection from the great work. . . . [This] 600-page selection combines popular accessibility and scholarly thoroughness. It is a book big enough to be absorbing, but small enough to manage. . . . The famous jokes and oddities misrepresent Johnson's real achievement, but Lynch's selection does not. It is judicious and imaginative. For people who love the language, this will fill a huge gap on their shelves.

— Paul Tankard, The Age (Melbourne), 28 Sept. 2002


Samuel Johnson's Insults

Alice Roosevelt Longworth once famously said, “If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” Nowadays Teddy's daughter might advise picking up a copy of Samuel Johnson's Insults, whose subtitle would surely have delighted the old gal: A Compendium of Snubs, Sneers, Slights and Effronteries from the Eighteenth-Century Master. Jack Lynch . . . has culled more than 350 biting barbs from the dictionary's hundreds of vituperative entries. . . . Many of these zingers have long lain dormant, notes the publisher; some have even come close to extinction. But now, thanks to Johnson and Lynch, we can once again revel in such terms as “runnion” (a paltry, scurvy wretch) and fustilarian (a stinkard; a scoundrel).

Publishers Weekly, 26 Jan. 2004


Anniversary Essays on Johnson's “Dictionary”

This book is an essential addition to any serious collection in the field of English studies or bibliography.

Rare Books Newsletter

This volume elegantly surveys current assessments of Johnson's imposing and critically challenging work and offers hints for future critical inquiry. All the essays are cogent, persuasively argued, and well documented. . . . Admirers of Johnson's enduring lexicographical intervention will find here a work that omits little and offers a great deal. Summing Up: Essential.

— A. W. Lee, Choice 43, no. 7 (March 2006): 3876


Valuable new research and analysis has been prompted . . . by this year's 250th anniversary of the work that turned Samuel Johnson into Doctor Johnson. . . . Because each essay is short, it is possible to read them all with profit. The effect of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, for each paper offers access to a way of thinking and to a range of sources that may be new to the exclusively literary, bibliographical, or lexicographical reader. Essay after essay in this collection demonstrates that close study of the actual content and circumstances of the Dictionary tends to call into question received opinions about it.

— H. J. Jackson, TLS 5354 (11 Nov. 2005): 3—4


The volume collected by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott gives an excellent conspectus of present-day research into Johnson's dictionary. . . . All the contributions are extremely readable and of convenient length; each has its own notes and list of references. It is their common endeavour to go back to facts and proofs and not rely on tradition.

— Werner Hüllen, Historiographia Linguistica 33, no. 3 (2006): 426–30


The essays included here are united by their desire to escape the popular commonplaces which often litter Johnson studies. . . . The anniversary essays celebrate Johnson without resorting to the hagiographical; maintaining a spirit of genuine critical independence, they offer an illuminating overview — as well as insightful detail — on a range of approaches to Johnson as lexicographer (and are informed too by an impressively wide-ranging knowledge of Johnson's other work). The volume is carefully organized, and chapters often intersect productively.

— Lynda Mugglestone, Notes & Queries 53, no. 4 (Dec. 2006): 560–63


Becoming Shakespeare

Named one of the “Favorite Books of 2007” by the Chicago Tribune.

[Lynch] ably chronicles how “in three hundred years, William Shakespeare the talented playwright and theatre shareholder had become Shakespeare the transcendent demigod,” against whom no slight of literary criticism was too small not to be deemed heresy. . . . Lynch tells the story of the personalities and politics that shaped both the reception of the Bard's works and the development of the theater in England between 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, and 1864, his 300th birthday. Lynch writes fluidly about the Puritan aspirations that shut the English theaters after Queen Elizabeth's death, the Restoration and consequent revitalization of London's theatrical culture, the rise of celebrity culture and the spread of literacy that took Shakespeare off the stage and into the parlor and classroom.

Publishers Weekly, 9 April 2007


An accessible chronicle of Shakespeare's rise to his present glory. . . . Lynch focuses . . . on charting Shakespeare's transformation from a popular playwright in his day to a writer many now consider the keystone of the Western literary canon. . . . He engagingly details the strengths, shortcomings and literary relevance of major editions alongside those now merely of historical interest because they attempted to sanitize the bawdy bard to reflect the more decorous tastes of late-18th-century or Victorian sensibilities. Pitched just right for students of literature, Shakespeareans and those interested in the history of drama: a witty and appealing story of how a superstar was born.

Kirkus Reviews, 1 May 2007


Shakespeare was transformed into a secular saint by successive waves of actors, scholars, adapters, propagandists, expurgators, self-aggrandizers, and cultural entrepreneurs. . . . Lynch makes virtually every one of these figures fascinating, amusingly revealing their idiosyncrasies without letting any of them obscure the ongoing movement he traces. A book for Shakespeareans of all stripes to relish with gusto.

— Ray Olson, Booklist, 1 July 2007


Lynch takes up [his subject] and pursues it with an unpretentious erudition and impious relish that makes you envy his Rutgers University students. A good literary history is a story about stories, and a good literary historian, which Lynch most surely is, has regard but not reverence for his subject. He's a fine storyteller with a real scholar's facility for the apt rather than the showy quotation. . . . Lynch is particularly good on Shakespeare's enduring ability to excite the repressive impulses of would-be cultural commissars down through the centuries.

— Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times, 20 June 2007


Lynch offers a marvelous trip through four centuries of English literary and theatrical history. Along the way, he demonstrates the fascinating connections between Shakespeare's works and developments in politics, international relations, religion, personal morality, literacy and education, and even the way celebrities are treated by society. . . . [Shakespeare's plays] have endured and survived the assaults of the best and worst of Western culture for three centuries. But the story of their resilience and the literary beatification of their author is one of the most entertaining and informative tales offered in a long time from any literary historian. Shakespeare's becoming is the real drama, and Mr. Lynch's account of it is worthy of inclusion on anyone's reading list.

— Clay Reynolds, Dallas Morning News GuideLive, 29 July 2007


Becoming Shakespeare is packed with intriguing historical tidbits worked into the overall narrative of how the English theatrical and literary scene evolved from 1616 to 1864. Becoming Shakespeare is an absolute must for any Shakespeare enthusiast, but it will also appeal to readers with an interest in theatre, literary criticism, or just a wonderful historical tale.

— Melissa A. Barton, Bookslut, July 2007


A keen literary historian, writing in pellucid prose, Mr. Lynch re-creates the truly extraordinary trajectory of a B+ writer . . . who suffered obscurity immediately after his demise. . . . This is a very impressive, accessible book that synthesizes and clarifies hundreds of years of scholarship, and as such belongs on every Shakespeare shelf.

— Carl Rollyson, New York Sun, 8 Aug. 2007


An informative account of the afterlife of the provincial playwright. . . . Becoming Shakespeare is filled with scrumptious stories.

Glenn C. Altschuler, Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 Aug. 2007


Lynch . . . focuses on Shakespeare the Reputation — in the academy, on the stage, in the publishing world and in education — a plus for a relatively slight volume, for it stakes out terrain that is somewhat idiosyncratically removed from the avalanche of other Shakespeare books. . . . Lynch smoothly illustrates how changing performance expectations worked in tandem with censorious impulses (e.g., an aversion to Shakespeare's bawdiness) to denature the presentation of what was “Shakespeare.”

— Art Winslow, Chicago Tribune, 25 Aug. 2007


The story is full of characters who seem straight out of Shakespeare's darker comedies, such as Mary Lamb, the writer who murdered her mother and later in life helped rewrite the plays into stories suitable for children, and improbable episodes, such as a Romeo and Juliet portrayed by a father-daughter team. But the analysis goes much deeper, examining how Shakespeare's works have been manipulated to say exactly what his various editors want them to say.

— Nathaniel French, St. Petersburg Times, 12 Aug. 2007


Lynch's accessible and interesting book . . . hits the mark especially well . .  in discussing the “adaptations” of Shakespeare. . . . It's an erudite introduction to the topic.

— Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday, 6 April 2008


Lynch offers learned and wry insights on the history of performing, studying, improving, co-opting, domesticating, forging, and worshiping Shakespeare. . . . Great fun for intrepid readers curious about how a “very competent playwright” was transformed into “a demigod.”

— Barbara Genco, School Library Journal, Jan. 2008


The Shakespeare industry is getting out of control. . . . Is there anything new to write? . . . Germaine Greer wrote a terrifically stimulating and combative biography of Shakespeare's wife. . . . Now the American scholar Jack Lynch has come up with an ever better trick. Instead of writing about Shakespeare himself, he has turned his attention to the development of Shakespeare's celebrity, and his gradual but steady elevation to the undisputed status of supreme all-round literary superstar.

— Harry Reid, The Herald (Glasgow), 3 May 2008


[Lynch] is a masterful storyteller and this literary history is full of great yarns. It's a thoughtful meditation on the not-so-modern notion of celebrity and fame.

Lucy Clark, The Sunday Mail (Queensland), 9 Aug. 2009


Deception and Detection in
Eighteenth-Century Britain

A masterful and remorseless unraveling of the tangled web of “fakery studies.” . . . This is a landmark contribution to eighteenth-century literary and cultural history: the intelligent scepticism of Lynch's study has important implications for all those interested in the status of literary truth, authoriality, the nature of oral transmission, and the validity of evidence.

— Philip Smallwood, Birmingham City University


A series of unexpected and arresting perspectives on forged literature. . . . His argument is vivacious. . . . Lynch displays exceptional patience in teasing out the imlications of his analysis on his textual material, and, as in the most thought-provoking works in fake studies, he takes his time over reassessing the social and cultural assumptions of a period, and indeed in repositioning the language of authenticity.

— Nick Groom, TLS 5523 (6 Feb. 2009): 8


An impressive work of scholarship. . . . Lynch reveals the intricate, even serpentine, character of eighteenth-century arguments about deception and its concomitant, authenticity. . . . The stories that this book tells about fraudsters, forgers, their defenders and the detectives who attempt to catch them out are hugely entertaining. . . . As he argues for the centrality of deception and detection to an eighteenth-century understanding of the world, so Lynch also demonstrates the important position that his own monograph occupies within the field of eighteenth-century studies.

— Rebecca Bullard, Review of English Studies


Lynch's book is of major importance because of the very specific and original angle he opts for. . . . This approach results in a fascinating and convincingly argued account of some major changes in our ways of thinking about authorial authenticity, the nature of evidence, and the connection between reputation and literary values. Well-written and entirely jargon-free . . . this careful analysis of its subject opens up new areas.

— Peter de Voogd, SHARP News 18, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 17.


Jack Lynch's meticulously researched book . . . focuses on debates surrounding James Macpherson's Ossian poems, William Henry Ireland's Shakespeare, Thomas Chatterton's poetry, Mary Toth's [sic] alleged birthing of rabbits, and Elizabeth Canning's abduction while mentioning others such as that surrounding George Psalmanazar, who successfully assumed an East Asian identity. . . . With great objectivity and skill, Lynch dissects the arguments surrounding what constituted a fake, carefully documenting both well-known and obscure sources.

— Stephanie Shestakow, Journal of British Studies 48, no. 3 (July 2009): 774–76.


Jack Lynch's absorbing and readable study of eighteenth-century debates about cases of forgery will be of interest to scholars in a range of disciplines. . . . Deception and Detection is engaging, consistently convincing, and ought to enliven conversations about the development of historicism. . . . a memorable, erudite, and pithy study that ought to be perused by anyone interested in eighteenth-century culture or the idea of fraud.

— Bonnie Latimer, Modern Language Review 104, no. 3 (July 2009): 844–45.


Adopting an historicist approach, [Lynch]'s book makes large and important claims. . . . The arguments in Lynch's excellent study are compelling. . . . Deception and Detection explains more than the complex systems of knowledge and belief of the 18th century; it explains much about the complex systems of knowledge and belief that are their legacy.

— Michael Wiley, The Wordsworth Circle 40, no. 4 (2009).


This interesting and thoughtful books touches the eighteenth century on one of its rawest nerves.

— L. G. Mitchell, Notes & Queries (Aug. 2009).


Lynch offers a crisply written, well-organized, and comprehensive assessment of the philosophy of criticism surrounding all the major — and much minor — literary fakery roiling the English public of the time. . . . This well-fashioned and erudite book is highly recommended for all scholars, graduate students, undergraduates, and lay readers interested in the insatiable human penchant for fabrication, as it played out unforgettably in the long eighteenth century.

— Thomas M. Curley, Modern Philology 109, no. 3 (Feb. 2012): 188–91.


Lynch attests to the importance of careful reading and interpretation of his sources. . . . The result is a non-chronological but well-plotted, informative and subtle account of reading practices, deception and authenticity, whose painstaking analysis is presented in a lively manner that seems to have absorbed much of the playfulness of its subject, without losing any of the seriousness of the issues at stake. . . . As Lynch argues in this perceptive and persuasive study, pursuing authenticity, or combating doubt, is the foundation for much eighteenth-century thought and provides the bedrock for its society.

— Eliza O'Brien, Year's Work in English Studies 2010.


” 
border=

The Lexicographer's Dilemma

It's getting harder to make a living as an editor of the printed word, what with newspapers and other publications cutting staff. And it will be harder still now that Jack Lynch has published “The Lexicographer's Dilemma,” an entertaining tour of the English language in which he shows that many of the rules that editors and other grammatical zealots wave about like cudgels are arbitrary and destined to be swept aside as words and usage evolve.

Also, despite what some fussbudget may have told you, civilization will not end when this happens.

Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, 1 Jan. 2010.


Lynch writes in funny and engaging prose about the human side of language history and the people who have helped make English so darn complex. . . . Lynch's highly readable book will appeal to all users of the English language, from word buffs to scholars alike.

Carol Gladstein, Library Journal, 15 Jan 2010.


This delightful look at efforts through the centuries to define and control the English language turns out to be a history of human exasperation, frustration and free-floating angst. People tend to go nuts around the English language. Of course, most of us are nuts anyway, but the language is always there, in the ether, or staring at us from a page, and if we're feeling particularly cranky, it never fails to provide a ready excuse for us to fly off the handle.

— Carolyn See, Washington Post, 4 Dec. 2009.


“‘Passions run hot when the discussion turns to language,’ writes Rutgers English professor Jack Lynch in his sprightly new history of the notion of ‘proper’ English, ‘The Lexicographer's Dilemma.’ ‘Friends who can discuss politics, religion and sex with perfect civility are often reduced to red-faced rage when the topic of conversation is the serial comma or an expression like more unique.’ Ain't it the truth? . . . To protests that the language police are only protecting the accuracy, precision and clarity of our tongue, Lynch lifts a skeptical eyebrow.”

— Laura Miller, Salon, 25 Oct. 2009.


Yes, there are lexicographers in Jack Lynch's book, but it’' really a history of English peevology, populated by word wranglers as different as John Dryden and George Carlin. . . . Showing us the peevologists at work, in all their naked quirkiness, just might make us less eager to accuse one another of ignorance, pretension, and general linguistic mayhem.

— Jan Freeman, Boston Globe, 6 Dec. 2009.


It doesn't seem possible to make grammar book writers memorable, but Lynch pulls it off with ease and gusto.

— Robert Lane Greene, Three Books (NPR), 13 April 2011.


Complaints that English is being debased by the internet, text messaging, progressive teaching methods or slovenly journalism are common. . . . In The Lexicographer's Dilemma, Jack Lynch, an American university professor, provides a readable and richly informative history of such protest. . . . Lynch's book pleasingly delineates the conflict between those who have attempted to embalm English and those who have documented, and in some cases revelled in, its plasticity and mutability.

Henry Hitchings, Financial Times, 18 Dec. 2009.


Lynch recognizes that grace, clarity, and precision of expression are paramount. His many well-chosen and entertaining examples support his conclusion that prescriptions and pedantry will always give way to change, and that we should stop fretting, relax, and embrace it.

— Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe, 22 Nov. 2009.


Lynch . . . offers an erudite and entertaining history of how our hodgepodge of rules and conventions came to be, and convincingly argues that the only constant in the English language is change.

Anne Trubek, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 3 Feb. 2010.


Shall one prescribe or describe the use of words? This is not a dissertation on why a preposition is a bad word to end a sentence with. Rather, Jack Lynch celebrates the flexibility, beauty and joy of the English language. . . . Lynch weaves the familiar with the obscure, to the delight of the reader. He is not lost in Elizabethan England. As the subtitle implies, he is also very current, aware that rapidly changing technologies and globalization will increase the pace of evolution of language.

Frank L. Cloutier, The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), 17 Jan. 2010.


In Jack Lynch's “The Lexicographer's Dilemma” you'll meet the heroes, scolds, wags and idealists who have shaped our standards of English grammar and usage. Lynch describes the egotistic eccentrics and crusty curmudgeons who have rapped us on the knuckles, from the 17th-century poet John Dryden, who first nixed the sentence-ending preposition, to the Nixon-era comic George Carlin, who fingered the seven words you can't say on TV.

— Rob Kyff, Hartford Courant, 7 Dec. 2009.


A jolly and therefore readable account of those fussy people. From 17th-century Englishmen Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson to English's Americanizer Noah Webster, Lynch draws the battle lines between the prescriptivists, who prescribe a correct approach, and descriptivists, who analyze how language works. Lynch enlivens the narrative on a subject otherwise unglamorous to many readers.

— Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News (Boston), 15 Jan. 2010.


The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual

The Age of Johnson fully justifies its status as heir to one of our great traditions of eighteenth-century scholarship. . . . Its continuing importance for eighteenth-century criticism are manifest.

— Michael McKeon, SEL 45, no. 3 (2005): 707–71


The prose aims for uncluttered elegance (no jargon, nothing congested or obscure); the erudition can be awesome. Produced in a large format hardback with wide margins, The Age of Johnson is a magisterial affair from AMS Press. . . . It has become, deservedly, the leading journal for Johnsonian studies. . . . For anyone with even a moderate interest in Johnson and his times there is absorbing matter here.

— Norma Clarke, TLS 5457 (2 Nov. 2007): 23–24


A cluster of fascinating studies, expanding the already substantial bibliography of titles linking Samuel Johnson to all sorts of ideas, events, people, and things—what we might call the “Johnson and . . .” approach.

Steven Lynn with Pang Li, Year's Work in English Studies 87 (2008 for 2006): 4–5.


The Age of Johnson continues to be a major publishing event in Johnson and related studies.

Steven Lynn, Year's Work in English Studies 88 (2009 for 2007).


Samuel Johnson in Context

This year saw the publication of no fewer than five books devoted to [Johnson's] life and works. . . . The most ambitious is Samuel Johnson in Context, edited by Jack Lynch. . . . The book collects an impressive forty-seven new essays. . . . The list of contributors is imposing, and authors and topics are well matched. . . . The essays work well as descriptive summaries or introductions — those in Parts I and II are especially impressive in their succinct and lucid coverage of large, complex topics — and as such the book . . . will be particularly valuable to readers coming to Johnson or eighteenth-century culture for the first time. The essays, however, also articulate some of the major critical and historical cruxes obtaining in recent scholarship. . . . Cumulatively, then, the essays also build up a picture of the “state of the discipline,” pointing out current concerns and debates and suggesting promising fields of research.

Year's Work in English Studies 93, no. 1 (2014): 551–52