The “categorical imperative” means something quite different, but it does sound like the right term for the self-protective psychological urge that drove Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), creator of the Thesaurus, to classify and categorize all manner of things over a long lifetime. Madness did not just run in his family; it galloped, sped, sprinted, dashed and made haste. If the title of Joshua Kendall’s fine new biography of Roget has a clinical Oliver Sacks feel, the material pretty much justifies it. “The Man Who Made Lists” outlines the “chronic mental instability” of Roget’s maternal grandmother; the “psychotic trance” in which his mother spent her last days after a life of neurotic “neediness”; the breakdowns undergone by Roget’s sister and daughter (he married late and was widowed early); and the grief-driven, throat-slashing suicide of his uncle, the great British civil libertarian Samuel Romilly, who expired in Roget’s blood-soaked arms.
more from the NYT Book Review here.