Roget, Taxonomies and Lists

I’ve just finished reading Joshua Kendall’s biography of Peter Mark Roget of thesaurus fame: The Man Who Made Lists (Putnam 2008). Although Kendall takes a popularising approach (the book is sadly lacking in bibliography) he has clearly done his homework and has done a great job of situating Roget in the intellectual life of his time, and draws out the role of taxonomy not only in Roget’s life and work, but also in the approach to science, society and industry of that period. For those interested in the history of taxonomy, this is a small but useful contribution. Of particular interest is the way that Roget appeared to use list-making and classification activities as a strategy to cope with stress, anxiety and depression… as a metaphor for the role of taxonomies in sensemaking, it’s a powerful one.

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