Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on July 31, 2017
I like Bryson's easy, breezy writing and love languages, so I expected to really enjoy this book and at first I did. I was dazzled by Bryson's erudition. Until I got to the one language that I know something about, Classical Chinese. In one paragraph, he slaughtered the truth. I'll give you just two examples. He said that people today could read the Chinese of 2,500 years ago. Not true. Contemporary and Classical Chinese are far more different than Latin and modern Italian, and that was true even before the Communists simplified the characters in the 60's. He also said that using a Chinese/English dictionary was a joke. After looking up a word by its radical (roughly, root), all of the thousands of entries for characters using that radical were just thrown in at random. Again, flatly untrue. They are entered in the order of the number of strokes used to write them. That still doesn't make it easy to find a word in a Chinese/English dictionary, but they aren't put together by clowns, either. In his bibliography, Bryson cites one work on Chinese, "Chinese for Beginners" by Dianne Wolff. I have been such a fan of Bryson's that I dared to hope that the mistakes were hers, so I ordered the book. Alas, her work is completely accurate. Bryson, either because he couldn't be bothered to actually read her book or just because he thought it was more entertaining his way, is totally responsible for his false statements. I do recognize that Classical Chinese is an obscure language, and who cares, right? But if he could be completely, 100 percent wrong about one language, what's to give us confidence he's right about any of them? I'm not saying he's dishonest, but I am saying I wouldn't set out on a walking tour of England using "The Road to Little Dribbling" as a guide unless I were comfortable with the risk I'd find myself walking through, say, Albania instead.
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