The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium

From Joseph Frisbie to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items were Named for Extraordinary People

By Philip Dodd
(Gotham, Hardcover, 9781592403479, 272pp.)

Publication Date: December 27, 2007

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Description

What's in a name? For Philip Dodd, this question led to an international hunt for the best stories of eponymous heroes-- an extraordinarily diverse group of people with just one thing in common: by chance or deliberately, they have left their names deeply embedded in the language and consciousness of future generations.

A few, such as instrument-maker Adolphe Sax, set out to achieve immortality. A handful - Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, for example - positively shunned the prospect. But the majority, like Joseph P. Frisbie or Ernst Gräfenberg (the G in G- spot), simply had no idea that some strange quirk of their lives, work, or personalities would catapult them to fame, or that one day their family name would become a household word.

Tracing their varied paths to glory has taken Philip Dodd on a worldwide quest. He has voyaged to the desolate Matagorda peninsula on the Gulf Coast of Texas to find out the truth about the notorious cattle rancher Samuel Maverick. He has been to Happy Valley, California, to find Roy Jacuzzi, alive and well and still bubbling with ideas. He has followed the story of Joseph P. Frisbie from a former pie factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to the headquarters of Wham-O, trying the fledgling sport of `Frisbie golf' and taking home a rather strange and macabre memento... And, of course, he has ventured to the St Ann's River in Trinidad to see for himself the spot where Robert Lechmere Guppy, naturalist extraordinaire, first collected a certain small freshwater fish. His discoveries breathe life back into words that we too readily take for granted.

Philip Dodd's globetrotting, personal approach brings these idiosyncratic, occasionally bizarre stories to vivid life-- armchair travel at its best. In this marvelous tribute to the forgotten people who changed our language, we learn that the prospect of immortality is only a fluke away. In an age of instant 15-minute celebrity, that's a reassuring thought.

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