For Freeman, literary critic, essayist, editor, poet—it is the rare moment when words are not enough. From A to Z, "Agitate" to "Zygote," Freeman assembled the words that felt most essential, most potent, and began to build a case for their renewed power and authority, each word building on the last.
We have allowed a startling combination of converging factors, not least the stratospheric rise of social media, the narcissistic cult of the digital self and the catastrophic demise of transparency and accountability in the political sphere, where language itself is daily abused and devalued by celebrity presidents to the point of gratuitous meaninglessness, to unravel the very fabric of our society ... As a quiet countermeasure to all this, Freeman has penned a 'dictionary' of sorts, a collection of short interconnected essays really that makes a series of forays into the shared language of our civic life, with the noble intention of reinstating and expanding this lexicon’s significance, purpose and value ... remains firmly grounded in complex and pertinent thought, incorporating perspicacious analysis of the select terms under debate, arranged from A to Z ... Freeman’s diagnosis is worryingly persuasive, largely due to the intellectual and rhetorical integrity of its argument. On the other hand, his proposed solutions are readily achievable. The book surpasses the activist intimations of its alarm call and stands as its own artefact of resistance ... In keeping with his civic mission, Freeman unflinchingly poses salient and discomfiting questions throughout. The writing exerts great oratorical force upon the reader, but a force backed up by clear-sighted honesty, cogent thought and keen conscience.
In twenty-six short essays on words from agitate to zygote, he peels back cliché to expose the fresh surface of meaning, reinvigorating words and the thinking we can do with them ... capacious yet concise, ambitious yet down-to-earth, clearly focused and structured yet still with a spaciousness that invites contemplation. It’s a palm-size paperback that fits in a backpack, coat pocket, or hand. Its small chapters are psalmic in their intensity, meditative points of contact with big truths that continue to radiate, quietly, in your head.
[An] incisive, bold, and passionate reclamation of language ... Each entry in his dictionary of 26 resonant words—among them agitate, body, decency, environment, giving, norms, spirit, teachers, usurp, and vote—is a perceptive and rousing assessment of various aspects of the raging 'information war' ... The result, gracefully punctuated with an afterword by MacArthur fellow Valeria Luiselli, is an incandescent and galvanizing protest and call for awareness and action.