The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the MadmanThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English DictionaryThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester by Simon Winchester

I’ve had Winchester’s book on my “to read” list for at least a decade. No joke – I know it was there when I was in grad school, and it never made its way to the top for me to actually read it. Until now, finally, when it being a book club pick pushed me to actually get it read.

Why on earth did I wait that long? It’s not super long, or hard to read – it’s a very accessible look at two of the main individuals involved in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Which I realize might not sound that interesting if you’re thinking “writing a dictionary = boring, so a story about people writing one = more boring.” Not so!

I would caution anyone who is super sensitive that there are some descriptions that might be a bit tough to read. Speculation about some of the possible causes of Minor’s insanity (such as his experiences in the Civil War), and a particular event that took place once he was in the asylum both had me cringing and trying not to visualize the specifics.

Fascinating – I’m so glad I finally read it after having it linger on my TBR list for years.

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Publisher’s Description:
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 began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious 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.

Book Details

Title: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English DictionaryThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
Author: Simon Winchester
Category: Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Comments

  1. I listened to this book on a solo cross-country drive almost six years ago, but I don’t remember very much of it! I do remember I enjoyed it at the time, but maybe I should pull it from the library in physical book form. I know I don’t remember information as well when I hear it as I do when I read it. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve read a lot of other stuff in the past six years. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I’d be surprised if a few parts of it didn’t come back to you pretty quickly if you tried re-reading it. A couple of moments were quite memorable for me, in a somewhat horrifying kind of way.

      Of course, we’ll see if I do remember them in six years. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. This book was a daily deal on Kindle not too long ago and I was contemplating reading it because it sounds like a book that is right up my alley (I just read The Remedy and The Disappearing Spoon, which seem similar and both books I liked], but I decided not to get it since I hadn’t heard anything about it. Then you wrote a post about it and I was kicking myself for not getting it. But I figure that I will just get it from the library :].

    • I think you would probably like it. I’m basing that on being about 4 chapters into The Disappearing Spoon. This one is more readable, or at least it was for me the non-Chemistry person.

      I’ve got The Remedy on my library holds list, so I’m glad to hear a good report about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • The Disappearing Spoon sometimes went way over my head because I’m not a Chemistry person either, but I found some of the stories so fascinating about how the elements came about :]. I look forward to reading this book!

        • Yes – I love the stories in the book – that’s what’s keeping me interested. Which reminds me that I need to get back to it. It got pushed aside for a bit because of reading deadlines, but I don’t want to forget about it entirely.

  3. If I can find this one at the library, totally reading it!! Thanks for highlighting it!!

    • I think this one got some good reviews and press when it first came out, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most libraries had it (not sure how big your library is). That’s where my copy came from! ๐Ÿ™‚

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