Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Man Behind the Lists

After my post on Peter Roget and his thesaurus last week, my father-in-law alerted me to something I'd never heard before--that Roget suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and possibly high-functioning Asperger's syndrome. This aspect of his personality is examined in a new biography of Roget, The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of 'Roget's Thesaurus,' by Joshua Kendall. A good deal of depression and mental illness afflicted Roget's family; Kendall views Roget's obsessive list-making as "a heroic defense mechanism," an attempt to order the chaos of his life and keep a grip on his mental stability. The writer of the NYT review of the biography points out, however, that if Roget did suffer from Asperger's, the list-making was not so much a conscious effort but an "involuntary part of who he was." In any case, the biography looks interesting and is definitely going into my TBR pile. The possibility of illness underlying Roget's efforts in a sense humanizes his cerebral masterpiece and is an example of how good things can often result from unfortunate circumstances. (And thanks to my father-in-law for prompting me to delve a bit further into Roget's life.)


Anonymous said...

I am currently reading Kendall's book and I also recognized the Aspergers characteristics. My son has Aspergers so I am quite familiar with it, and Roget definately seems to fit the profile. The list making, the OCD behaviors, the social awkwardness, the family history of depression, the amazing memory - all can be Aspergers behaviors. I will have to look for the NYT review that you mentioned.

Julianne Douglas said...

Janet, I'm sorry, I just recently saw your comment. You must have completed Kendall's book by now. What did you think of it?