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

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Author:Simon Winchester
Publisher:Harper Collins

Prior to this book, I would have assumed that any history of lexicography would be pedantic, ponderous, dusty and dull. Simon Winchester proved me dead wrong. He tells the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary via the bizarrely connected lives of two of the men who contributed the most to its completion. Dr. W.C. Minor had volunteered vast amounts of scholarship to the OED for nearly 20 years before Dr. James Murray, the project's editor, decided to undertake a personal visit. It was time, Murray had decided, to formally express his deep gratitude to the reclusive genius. It was then that Murray discovered the truth about Minor-this longtime correspondent was resident for life in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Clinically insane, a convicted murderer, Minor was also an intellect of the highest order, a man whose devotion to seeking, charting, documenting and defining words matched that of Murray.

Winchester's history vivifies the complex, intertwined lives of this odd couple while delving into the equally impressive tale of the OED's behemoth construction. What could have been a quirky historical footnote is presented here with a fascinating appeal. In other words, you needn't be an aspiring philologist to become enraptured by The Professor and the Madman.

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