Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States - Bill Bryson

By just about any account, American English is a pretty messed up language. The question is how did it get that way, and that's exactly what Bryson wishes to answer. Dividing up chapters by time periods and themes of industrial/cultural innovations, Bryson explains that the American language was shaped by its environment, interactions with multiple cultures, and technological innovations, all of which are unlike any other place on Earth. Bryson is a fine and humorous writer who weaves a mess into a fine tapestry showing the iterative process between a people and their world. The book is not for the faint of heart as there's a great deal to absorb both in terms of linguistic information and raw history. This is not to suggest it is a perfect book, there are various turns of phrases which I know are rather commonplace and yet are overlooked, especially in terms of urban argot, Yiddish expressions, and computer terminology (although perhaps that last one should be forgiven considering the 20 years since his book was written (a time when the Internet did not truly exist)). Expressions such as clicker for remote control, boob tube, idiot box, and Smart bombs are all terms that clearly fall under topics he has covered and yet are ignored. Additionally, while his scholarship is impressive, there are occasional lapses such as his refusal to dismiss the Kensington Runestone as anything but a hoax. In any event, the book is pretty amazing, and sheds light onto the American character as few books that I’ve ever read does. The perfect gift for anyone interest in history or language or America or any combination thereof.