In The Reverend Guppy’s Aquarium Philip Dodd travels to the remoter corners of the English language to explore the lives of an astonishingly diverse range of people who happen to have one thing in common: for better or worse, they have all left their names deeply embedded in the language and consciousness of future generations.
A few, such as instrument-maker Adolphe Sax, clearly set out to achieve this unusual form of 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 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 travelled to the desolate Matagorda peninsula on the Gulf Coast of Texas to find out the truth about the reluctant rancher Samuel maverick. He has wandered the streets of Buenos Aires to discover why the Hungarian László Biró should have ended his days there. 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 help breathe life back into words what we too readily take for granted. They also show – reassuringly, perhaps – that eternal renown is often only a fluke away.
Random House Books
Hardback, 272 pages
Published 27 September 2007
ISBN 978 1 90 521158 6
ISBN 978 1 592 40347 9
“Philip Dodd’s passport was certainly well stamped as he collected the anecdotes, memoirs and wry asides that make up the 15 tales presented here. Taking him from Buenos Aires to Disney World, each outlines how words in common usage (such as foxtrot, g-spot, maverick, and the guppy fish of the title) can be traced to the names of real, and often rather unassuming, individuals. Whilst there are some “ah-ha” moments, as pieces of each puzzle fall into place, it is the storytelling and the author’s obvious affection for his subject that give a heart to this book. It’s a quirky collection, concerned as much with people, history and fate as with their eponymous associations.”
Carol McNaughton, The Financial Times, 20/21 October 2007
“Brilliantly funny and engaging.”
Scotland On Sunday