The Dictionary of Lost Words: A Novel

Written by:
Pip Williams
Narrated by:
Pippa Bennett-Warner

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
April 2021
11 hours 11 minutes
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • “Delightful . . . [a] captivating and slyly subversive fictional paean to the real women whose work on the Oxford English Dictionary went largely unheralded.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress.”—Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Book

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, an Oxford garden shed in which her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip and, learning that the word means “slave girl,” begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

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I’ve always loved books and stories that are based on history even if the story is more fictional than historical. I found this book to be a beautiful love story of words, of the empowerment of women, of a desire to hold onto something with so much depth it will transcend time. The topic of the Oxford dictionary was so brilliant and I felt a personal message within the story for each of our relationships with words and also the struggles we each share around words. Communication is such an intrinsic part of our experiences and interactions with people and yet how often does our interpretation of a word vary from someone else? While this book is a work of historical fiction it also holds a key to how easily what we say can be misunderstood. Thank you Pip for bringing that key to your work. I truly loved this book.

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Cheryl Z.

An excellent book! Great look into the time period and makes one wonder how many other things could be different if women had even a slight voice! Highly recommend this book!!

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Gina V.

It was a lovely book. A bit slow at times in its details I too was in printing and I did set type by hand as what she refers to as the composer did. I found those parts if the story to be very interesting, and not slow as others may have. I honestly can't say I have ever read a book with that being one of the occupations. 40 yrs ago I as a young girl learned it from my elderly employer of his family's print shop. He told me you are learning a dying art. Which proved to be true.

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Absolutely loved this book. This is one I will read:/listen to again and again. There’s not many books like that. I cherish this one. The narrator was wonderful. Her voice made it magical.

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Devinne M.

Very good book. Touches upon very real topics impacting today. A great Historical Fiction book that makes you think about language in a new light. Warning: some topics may be triggering and you will definitely need tissues!!!

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A great read with powerful characters giving important messages.

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Paulina M.

Could not get through it

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This is wonderful historical fiction. Story of the love of words. The right to be recognized women in the 1900s diligently to answer the question how words described and noted differently between men and women That question was not answered, but you saw through there episodes of this fabulous story History of the Oxford, English dictionary. It was wonderful read it.

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Laurie S.

Wonderful story we’ll written and we’ll read! All the better because it’s based on truth!

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Margaret G.

A beautiful story about words, what they mean and who decides which ones are important. An earnest young woman’s contribution to a different kind of OED

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Linda S.

I really enjoyed this book, mostly because of the narration.

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Ok, not one of my favs

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