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The Professor and the Madman Hardcover – August 26, 1998
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In the asylum he had plenty of time to locate and submit thousands of usage slips to the OED, and thus began his relationship with Murray. It is an extraordinary relationship, and Winchester wrings every last drop of melodrama from it--to the point of irritating the reader.
For example, for many years there was a standard tale about the first meeting of Murray and Minor, in which Murray only finds out when he actually arrives at Broadmoor that Dr. Minor is not on the staff, but is an inmate. Winchester opens the book with the phrase "Popular myth has it that . . . " and proceeds to tell the tale; it is an engaging story, and he tells it well. However, halfway through the book he points out that it is false, and has been known to be so for several years. He does eventually give the true version of events, but dangling the attractive lie in front of the reader like this while delaying the less exciting truth is a sign of his weakness for sensationalism.
Another example (p. 195 in the paperback edition): after describing a particular gruesome episode of his madness, Winchester speculates for a whole page about a possible cause for which there is not even a hint of evidence--that Minor had an affair with the wife of the man he murdered. Winchester freely admits this is a complete fabrication, but includes it as "legitimate speculation"; to me, it feels more like tabloid journalism.Read more ›
Secondly, one wishes to see and hear more -- the author refers to several interesting photographs: a formal farewell photo of Minor near the end of his life, returning to America after 37 years in England (all but one spent in Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane); the last photo of Murray, a fortnight before his death, in the Scriptorium (where the OED was compiled) surrounded by his daughters and staff. It would have been nice to see these pictures. The author refers several times to Minor's handwriting and many times to his letters. It would have added to the story to see at least a few letters in full, and particularly to have seen a sample of Minor's writing. In addition, Winchester credits the motivation for the creation of the OED to an address by Richard Trench, in which Trench delineates seven ways that dictionaries of the time were deficient, but then states that "most of them are technical and should not concern us here"! I think people interested in this book *would* most likely be interested in these technical details. If nothing else, they should be put in a (foot)note.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The format is very cohesive and flows nicely. This is a fun way of learning while being compelled to read further due to the storyline. Read morePublished 15 days ago by Amazon Customer
A fascinating tale of how the lives of two very different people intersected in the development of the OED. A number of twists, but an intriguing story, as usual, from Mr. Read morePublished 19 days ago by James Toop
It was very interesting to read about the development of the Oxford dictionary and the sordid history of one of it's biggest contributors. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Winchester's masterful storytelling and narration, as well as the fascinating, tragic tale itself, made this audible book an entertaining, educational delight for anyone who loves... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kristine I. Hintz
The story of the two men portrayed in this book provides insight into the 70 year project that was the Oxford English Dictionary. Read morePublished 2 months ago by GSD
Well written and full of information. Just too much laborious detailing the descriptions of the crafting of the dictionary. Story line was goodPublished 2 months ago by elizabeth knego