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The Professor the Madman A Tale of Murder Insanity the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Author:Simon Winchester The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary--and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious ... more »projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.« less
The pretext for this book is rather slight – one of the significant volunteer contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary was, although an intelligent and educated man, also an inmate of an insane asylum, confined for a murder committed while in the throes of a schizophrenic paranoid delusion.
While, as a revelation, this fact may be less than earth-shattering, Winchester uses this story of the inmate, Dr. W.C. Minor, the man he killed, George Merrett, and the main editor of the OED, Dr. James Murray, as a vehicle for all kinds of interesting details – he goes on quite a number of tangents, but they’re always immensely well-written and fascinating! Winchester isn’t afraid to stray from dry, historical writing – he definitely makes guesses, fleshes things out for colorful effect – but his research is also obviously thoroughly done, and he also stops short of fictifying (ok, that’s not a word, but I think it should be) his topic – it’s always made clear when his scenarios are theoretical.
I’d highly recommend this book not only for those interested in dictionaries and lexicography, but for anyone interested in Victorian England, the Civil War, treatment of the mentally ill, or any of a number of other topics...
Karina S. reviewed The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary on + 20 more book reviews
10 member(s) found this review helpful.
Really engaging - you'd never think that the creation of the Oxford English dictionary would have such crazy history, but reads like a really great detective novel, even though it's completely factual. Couldn't put it down, amazed by what I learned from reading it.
Susan P. reviewed The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary on + 40 more book reviews
8 member(s) found this review helpful.
An absolutely fascinating history mingling two stories: the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and one of its leading contributors, a brilliant, but insane American confined in a British asylum. Full of fascinating facts and quirky personalities, it reads more like a novel.
This book lingered on my bookshelf for years because frankly, I was afraid it was going to be boring. I need not have worried; this book captured my attention and held it for all 242 pages and dare I say it: left me wanting more. The book is at its heart the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) but it's also a story about a murder, a civil war veteran who is psychotic, and a scholar who just needed some help in writing this huge book. The story covers about 80 or more years of history, both American and British, specifically as it relates to Oxford University. The author makes the story come alive and be interesting without being dull.