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.
This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
Ok, I have been reading books long enough to understand the concept of not judging a book by its cover. However, in all honesty I picked up this book the first time I read it because of the title on the cover. I mean I just had to know how someone managed to get madness, murder, and a dictionary all under one topic. These are not subjects that are usually found in the same discussions. And frankly, this is one of the best examples of the adage of “truth is stranger than fiction” that I have ever come across.
Starting in the Civil War, and continuing through the end of World War I — this was a story that encompassed a great deal of history. A retired army surgeon, Yale graduate, and very well read — with a passion for collecting books. On the surface it is hard to imagine how Dr. Minor ended up in England’s lunatic asylum following a brutal, and unprovoked murder on the very seedy side of Lambeth England.
The writing is very well done, and engrossing right from the start. And in all truth the reader forgets that they are even reading history because the story itself is so unusual. One word of caution, however, some men may find this story a little uncomfortable to read. I will simply leave it at that. It is very captivating to find out not only the birth of the idea of the cataloging the English language. This book is also amazing in presenting the scope of the development of the English dictionary and how large a job this truly was. Taking 70 years to complete, most people, especially readers, and lovers of language would find this story alone amazing. But combine it with the history of Dr. Murray, and Dr. Minor and you have a book that is better than anything you will ever find in fiction.
A must read for any one that appreciates language development, or those that are passionate about reading. Even if you don’t love history — this book will not be a wasted trip. Since the story is as engrossing as anything you will ever find in any other book.
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I’ve come across this title before but haven’t managed to read this one yet. It sounds fantastic, and I like the paradox between what you think the subject matter would be and what it actually is. Great review! Can’t wait to grab a copy of this.