Review: The Adventure of English – Melvin Bragg

In this book Bragg shares his love of the English language and gives an insight into the social history of a language that has come to dominate the world.

With a time scale spanning 1500 years, it’s hard to pick out any era, but the Tyndale bible stands out as an episode that forged the course of the English language.

At a time when the clergy kept hold of their power by declaring religious books in languages other than Latin to be heretical, William Tyndale made poetic translations of the Bible into English. In doing so, he risked his life and was executed by Henry VIII.

Without Tyndale, Bragg tells us, there would be no “scapegoats” no “filthy lucre.”


We would not be able to “eat drink and be merry”. Even the “seashore” would go by another name. It’s hard to imagine.

But The Adventure of English covers much more, from the emigration of the language with the Pilgrim fathers to the British Empire in India and the West Indies, the effects of and influences on the English language are charted with enthusiasm.

Though Bragg’s personification of the English language is wearying in the early stages, he provides sound reasons for why the language has come to be an international second language.

Like a good novel, this is a book that left me with a warm glow and a sense of loss when I came to the last page.