It's a dictionary, not an encyclopaedia, so the definitions are brief rather than comprehensive. And bear in mind that it was published in the eightieIt's a dictionary, not an encyclopaedia, so the definitions are brief rather than comprehensive. And bear in mind that it was published in the eighties, so cutting-edge it is not.
I find that I rely on Google-fu these days to answer my questions, science or otherwise, but it is nice to have a dedicated tome to thumb through, even if for no other reason than for the pleasure of erudite bathroom reading.
But for that I'd peruse more contemporary offerings. Maybe Collins Dictionary of Science? It has the added bonus of having 666 pages - an amusing count for a book that will never be read by red-state religious tract thumpers. ;)
Reviewed at the request of my friend Teresa. ...more
I procrastinated writing this review because I couldn’t make up my mind how many stars to award this book. The intriguing story and strong prose wereI procrastinated writing this review because I couldn’t make up my mind how many stars to award this book. The intriguing story and strong prose were overwhelmed by lack of citation, rampant speculation, and the egregiously clumsy literary device underlying the central relationship of the two protagonists. Winchester built up this great mystery about Dr. Minor, the reclusive contributor to Prof. Murray's editorial efforts, culminating in the exciting revelation about Minor's circumstances, then bam!, he drops in a wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-that-was-how-it-happened-but-wait-it-didn't! And don’t get me started on his creepy elegy for Dr. Minor: “He was mad, and for that, we have reason to be glad.” Who writes history like this?!?
The one criticism I won’t lob at The Professor and the Madman is the one I’ve read in several GR reviews: fustian language. It’s a book about words, fer cryin’ out loud, of course Winchester is going to trot out his best vocabulary! Me, I picked up: sesquipedalian (cf. fustian), louche, and polymath.
I think I’ll seek out OED, Caught in the Web of Words, the account of the making of the great books by none other than James Murray’s own granddaughter herself, K.M. Elisabeth Murray. She too presented the popular myth concerning the initial meeting between her ancestor and his collaborator, but she is absolved by dint of ignorance concerning the events; Winchester? he had no excuse. ...more
You should know that had I written my review before finishing the book, it might have been a '1-star', or maybe a '2-star' affair; which is to say, siYou should know that had I written my review before finishing the book, it might have been a '1-star', or maybe a '2-star' affair; which is to say, since I eventually awarded this book 3 stars, that it gets better so don't, when you inevitably want to, bail on this book.
The reason I feel so torn is not because the premise isn't an intriguing one (it is), nor is it because the author can't write (he can). No, it's because the author often writes too much. I think he was going for wry and dry, über-hyperbole (überperbole?) for effect, kind of an Americanized Lynn Truss, but he generally missed the mark. Deck's self-described style of "self-parodying pomposity" read like actual pomposity. His use of tortured imagery ("No one else has ever cut such a finely limned cookie on the dried batter of my heart."), combined with his obsession with grandiose phrasing and 50-cent words ("...had to worry about the diner staff concealing sputum in my meal..." really could have been just "spit in my lunch"), really left this reader thinking he must have written The Great Typo Hunt with his Roget's planted in his lap.
Those complaints aside, maybe Mr. Deck had his thesaurus planted, if not in his lap, firmly in his cheek. Eventually, the overwrought passages both grew on me and gave way to some interesting discussions of the bigger picture behind the portrait of a couple of typo hunters: the why of the quest, indie retail vs. Walmartization, prescriptive and descriptive approaches to grammar and punctuation, and the methods used in the U.S. to teach spelling and reading to name just a few. I found the expository passages much more compelling and less overworked than the descriptive bits. And when Deck dove into the history of dictionaries, I got all moist.
So, if, like me, your panties get all bunched up when you see an it's where an its should be, pick this little travelogue up and stick with it. And if you are reading this Mr. Deck, when you next pen a volume, be sure to follow Coco Chanel's advice: before you head out the door headed to your publisher's, take out one big word and you will have achieved the perfect balance in the look of your prose.
PS - I was wrong about the P's and Q's comment in my progress notes. ...more
Embrace your inner stickler and proudly announce you have the "seventh sense": you can see dead punctuation! Why a book on punctuation? Because: "PropEmbrace your inner stickler and proudly announce you have the "seventh sense": you can see dead punctuation! Why a book on punctuation? Because: "Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking." Read it, she's a hoot-and-a-half.
I learned more than I expected from this book: 1) I am a fan of the Oxford comma; 2) I wished I had taken Latin in high school; and I was wrong about Rule 7 for apostrophes (that "P's and Q's" is correct after all. I feel more erudite already!...more