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When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary put out a call during the late 19th century pleading for "men of letters" to provide help with their mammoth undertaking, hundreds of responses came forth. Some helpers, like Dr. W.C. Minor, provided literally thousands of entries to the editors. But Minor, an American expatriate in England and a Civil War veteran, was actually a certified lunatic who turned in his dictionary entries from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Simon Winchester has produced a mesmerizing coda to the deeply troubled Minor's life, a life that in one sense began with the senseless murder of an innocent British brewery worker that the deluded Minor believed was an assassin sent by one of his numerous "enemies."
Winchester also paints a rich portrait of the OED's leading light, Professor James Murray, who spent more than 40 years of his life on a project he would not see completed in his lifetime. Winchester traces the origins of the drive to create a "Big Dictionary" down through Murray and far back into the past; the result is a fascinating compact history of the English language (albeit admittedly more interesting to linguistics enthusiasts than historians or true crime buffs). That Murray and Minor, whose lives took such wildly disparate turns yet were united in their fierce love of language, were able to view one another as peers and foster a warm friendship is just one of the delicately turned subplots of this compelling book. --Tjames Madison
The Oxford English Dictionary used 1,827,306 quotations to help define its 414,825 words. Tens of thousands of those used in the first edition came from the erudite, moneyed American Civil War veteran Dr. W.C. Minor?all from a cell at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Vanity Fair contributor Winchester (River at the Center of the World) has told his story in an imaginative if somewhat superficial work of historical journalism. Sketching Minor's childhood as a missionary's son and his travails as a young field surgeon, Winchester speculates on what may have triggered the prodigious paranoia that led Minor to seek respite in England in 1871 and, once there, to kill an innocent man. Pronounced insane and confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon a call for OED volunteers in the early 1880s. Here on more solid ground, Winchester enthusiastically chronicles Minor's subsequent correspondence with editor Dr. J.A.H. Murray, who, as Winchester shows, understood that Minor's endless scavenging for the first or best uses of words became his saving raison d'etre, and looked out for the increasingly frail man's well-being. Winchester fills out the story with a well-researched mini-history of the OED, a wonderful demonstration of the lexicography of the word "art" and a sympathetic account of Victorian attitudes toward insanity. With his cheeky way with a tale ("It is a brave and foolhardy and desperate man who will perform an autopeotomy" he writes of Minor's self-mutilation), Winchester celebrates a gloomy life brightened by devotion to a quietly noble, nearly anonymous task. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Peter Matson. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Great books. I no clue this story would be this entertaining. It has great character's to it but some normal and other's.... Mad.Published 15 hours ago by chance Arradondo
Very interesting book suggested to me by a family member currently studying for her Masters. They had discussed this in a class and when she mentioned at dinner one evening I felt... Read morePublished 25 days ago by S. Williams
What an amazing story! A fascinating and true story of the first dictionary of the English la-gauge and the bizarre individuals who helped make it happen. Read morePublished 29 days ago by Deborah
An incredible true story. Simon Winchester delivers every time.Published 1 month ago by Robert D. O'Brien
More than you ever want to know about the making of the OED, and about one of it's contributors, the "madman", Dr W. C. Minor. Done in Winchester's wonderful writing style.Published 1 month ago by Thomas Adams
I was very excited to read the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary was created and the toils of its two main authors, Professor James Murray of Oxford and the mysterious Dr. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Katie
Overall fantastic book! Simon Winchester's writing style is superb - no dull or slow points in the book. Definitely gave me an appreciation & new perspective for the dictionary! Read morePublished 1 month ago by cmphilli