Christopher Hivner's Reviews > The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
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May 12, 12


This was a fascinating story. An American doctor, his mind lost, possibly from horrors he saw during service in the Civil War, moves to London to escape his demons. Since the demons are all in his mind, they remain with him and one morning it comes to a head when he shoots a man he believes was in his room. The man was merely walking to work at the wrong place and wrong time. Dcotor W.C. Minor is found to be insane and sent to Broadmoor Asylum for Criminal Lunatics. The only thing that keeps the brilliant doctor going is his books which he continues to collect. Through chance he finds a flyer in one of the books asking for volunteers to help compile the first Oxford English Dictionary, an undertaking that will span 70 years. Over the next 20 years Minor is instrumental in helping to edit one of the greatest undertakings in English literature. Because his correspondence was done through the mail, it's 8 years before the main editor, James Murray, finds out his most impressive helper is working from an asylum. After meeting him, they strike up a friendship.

This books flows beautifully through this story, giving you background on James Murray and Dr. Minor. You come to see Murray for the kind of person he is, who sees Minor as more than a man who has lost his mind. With Dr. Minor you realize how fragile the human psyche is. Over 100 years later, we can now treat illnesses like his, but still don't know what causes them. He spent 38 years suffering the worst paranoid delusions, but was also a major figure in a great literary achievement. I for one am glad someone brought this story to light.
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