I was born in 1974, grew up mainly in Surrey, and studied English Literature at Oxford before going on to University College London, where I gained a PhD.

My first book, Dr Johnson's Dictionary, was published in 2005 and won the Modern Language Association's prize for the year's best book by an independent scholar.

The Secret Life of Words (2008) won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award; it also led to my being shortlisted for the title of Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.

My next book also came out in 2008; originally published as How to Really Talk About Books You Haven't Read, it was given a new name for its paperback edition - Who's Afraid of Jane Austen?

This was followed by The Language Wars in 2011 and Sorry! The English and their Manners in 2013.

In 2009 I became the theatre critic for the London Evening Standard. I've contributed to many other publications, and you can find a small selection of my journalism by clicking the 'Links' button on this site.

In 2011 my first documentary, about the eighteenth-century novel, was broadcast on BBC4. I am also a consulting editor for the Oxford English Dictionary.

My latest project is Browse, a collection I've edited that contains sixteen new essays about bookshops. It's out in October 2016.