The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary

by Simon Winchester | History |
ISBN: 006099486x Global Overview for this book
Registered by morsecode of Woonsocket, Rhode Island USA on 8/10/2007
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3 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by morsecode from Woonsocket, Rhode Island USA on Friday, August 10, 2007
My book club's selection for May was: Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman (subtitled: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary). It was another book that we all enjoyed, though maybe not quite as much as we expected to.

I know that my opinion of the book was definitely clouded by the fact that I'd already read (and read relatively recently) The Meaning of Everything, Winchester's other book about the OED. Because the subject of the two books is the same there are passages that seem to have been copy-and-pasted from the first book into the second. That, however, wasn't my complaint. Actually, I just thought The Meaning of Everything, was a much stronger book. In The Professor and the Madman, Winchester is trying to tell the story of Minor (the madman) as well as the story of Murray (the professor and longest-reigning editor of the OED) and the broader story of the OED itself. Because he is trying to accomplish so much in one relatively short volume, he doesn't really manage to tell any of the stories satisfactorily.

One of the things I did like about the book (well, both books) is Winchester's use of what in my family we call "SAT words" (in reference to one of the standardized tests that we Americans need to take before entering university). I'm not sure if Winchester made an attempt to use more arcane words because he was writing a history of a dictionary or if he always writes like that, but it's definitely something I noticed and appreciated.

I'm sure that I'll be reading more from Winchester in the future because we have a number of his other books kicking around the house (The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa are two I've happened across recently). I think that I may try to search out audio versions though as Winchester is a really wonderful reader.


I'm belatedly registering this book, which I offered in a nonfiction swap on BookObsessed.com, so that I can pass it along to HoserLauren this weekend.

Journal Entry 2 by HoserLauren from Burlington, Ontario Canada on Sunday, August 12, 2007
Thanks so much Karen!! I''m really excited about this book. Sometimes I feel like it could be the title of my life (me being the madman.... or madwoman) lol

Murder, insanity, and literature. What more could one ask for!?

Thanks again!!

Journal Entry 3 by HoserLauren from Burlington, Ontario Canada on Sunday, February 01, 2009
This is the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester gives background as to what preliminary versions of dictionaries were like and how writers before this time didn't have anything to refer to to check the right usage of the word they were using.

Then Winchester gets into the compilation of the OED and specifically how Professor Murray from Oxford was the one to spearhead the project, even though it took him about 40 years of his life and continued on after his death. We also learn about Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran who quite literally goes crazy and eventually shoots and kills someone, thinking that he was trying to do something bad to him. This lands Dr. Minor in a mental institution in England. One of the few things he finds pleasure in is reading, so when there is a call out for people to help find quotations of word in books, Dr. Minor is up to the challenge. He becomes one of the most helpful contributors to the OED.

I found this book was quite hit and miss for me. There were portions of it that were very interesting and other parts that weren't interesting at all. Murray and Minor's stories kept me interested, but some of the history behind everything bored me. If you're interested in the history of literature, you would enjoy this book!

Journal Entry 4 by HoserLauren from Burlington, Ontario Canada on Monday, March 30, 2009
Sent off to candy-is-dandy for the Non-Fiction swap. Enjoy!

Journal Entry 5 by wingcandy-is-dandywing at Braintree, Essex United Kingdom on Saturday, November 19, 2011
My apologies! I just discovered this languishing in a box under my bed, unjournalled. At least you know its here and not lost somewhere across the Atlantic. Now placed properly on my TBR shelf.

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