The Bottom Line
Although you could probably read it without any familiarity with non-English languages, you may find it hard to understand, so my recommendation is that you read it only if you ever studied Latin or the Romance languages.
- Thorough history of Latin and the Roman Empire
- Copious examples and details
- Provides welcome context for obscure and even somewhat familiar topics/names
- Sometimes confusing (see next)
- Uses technical linguistic concepts
- Seems to rush through towards the end especially compared with the start
- Requires some Latin, but why would you read it if you had none?
- Nicholas Ostler studied Greek, Latin, and more at Oxford and received his Ph.D. in linguistics at MIT under Noam Chomsky.
- The book is a Western Civ course focusing on the language -- Latin and its daughters.
- Shows the effect of major events/movements, like Christianity, Islam, and the printing press, on Latin's dominance.
- Appendix 1 explains Latin mottoes used as chapter titles. App. 2 lists Etruscan borrowings in Latin. Both are interesting.
- The 3rd appendix, sound change, has good information, but is hard to follow and could use actual modern language examples.
Guide Review - Ad Infinitum - A Biography of Latin, by Nicholas Ostler
While this is the survey that Nicholas Ostler presents and embellishes with details from many disciplines, I was unclear about his conclusion. Yes Latin is used in certain limited places, like semantics (referring to categories of relationship and color), the Internet, and Finnish radio, but he also calls it a language that has survived 2500 years and is now a language of the past "sic transit gloria mundi 'so the glory of the world must pass.'" I find this mixed message confusing and/or depressing.