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Simon Winchester

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester is a story of the beginnings of the Oxford English Dictionary. James Murray took the job as editor of this work, but many others were involved in its creation. Winchester gives interesting details about several of these, such as Frederick Furnivall - thought to be the inspiration for Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. This book however, is primarily about one contributor, William Minor. Minor seemed like an ordinary contributor, but when Murray decided to visit him he was in for a surprise - Minor was an inmate of Broadmoor Asylum. Winchester has looked into this fascinating tale, separating out the myth from the reality, and the result is a highly enjoyable book.

Winchester examines the details of Minor's life, searching out reasons for his behaviour. Minor was a doctor during the American Civil War and was forced to inflict the punishment of branding on a defector. Being involved with an army punishing its own members within a country fighting itself clearly was harmful to such a sensitive person. During a visit to England he killed a man, and hence ended up in Broadmoor, where he had plenty of time to contribute to the new OED.

Each chapter starts with an entry from the dictionary. This is all very well, but some stretch to a page or more which tends to break up the flow of the book. I felt that this was a problem when several stories were being interleaved, which is otherwise very skillfully done.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 242 pages  
ISBN: 0060839783
Salesrank: 19059
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2005 Harper Perennial
Amazon price $7.13
Marketplace:New from $3.77:Used from $1.00
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 242 pages  
ISBN: 0060839783
Salesrank: 246981
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2005 Harper Perennial
Marketplace::Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 288 pages  
ISBN: 0060839783
Salesrank: 7535
Weight:0.5 lbs
Published: 2005 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Amazon price CDN$ 15.34
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 7.41:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product 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.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.


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