Jeff Raymond's Reviews > The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor & the Madman by Simon Winchester
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Jan 17, 11

bookshelves: read-nonfiction, read-history, read-biography-memoirs
Read from January 14 to 17, 2011

This book is really three stories in one - the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, the story of James Murray who oversaw the project, and the story of Dr William Chester Minor who was both a Civil War veteran and institutionalized killer. Minor is the key to this story, as his descent into madness also provided him with the time and inclination to help assist in the creation of the OED.

The book is short - a little over 200 pages - and the unfortunate fact is that much of the OED's creation is left behind to focus more on Minor's story from battlefield to British asylum, leaving a significantly small amount of the book to what I felt was the selling point - Minor's involvement with providing assistance to the creation of the OED. The book suffers the way I feel many nonfiction books with interesting-but-specific premises suffer - this would have been a great, great magazine article. To extend it fully into a book results in an unfortunate amount of fluff that didn't really feel relevant to what I had picked up the book for.

This is not to say it was a poorly done book, or anything close to that. The book had its moments and it was a nice diversion. But it just didn't meet the expectations it set for me, or, I believe, the expectations that the book set for itself.
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