Melissa'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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Jun 30, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction, books-about-books
Read in July, 2007

Another book that doesn't seem to have been quite sure what it is. It opens with the story of a murder and the subsequent conviction of a doctor who seemed to otherwise be an upstanding citizen. This same doctor, who spent the rest of his life under various degrees of psychiatric observation, was also a "lay scholar" responsible for a good deal of research on the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The book tries to divide itself between the history and making of the OED, and biography of the doctor. The author naturally attempts to make the most of the more sensational aspects of each story, but I think the book suffers for this. There is just not so much in the story of the OED that is shocking and titillating, and truth be told, with a couple of notable exceptions, the doctor's story inspires pity and sadness but is not nearly as horrific as the author might wish.

Each story ought to be interesting enough it its own way to engage the reader, but by trying to pit them against each other the author does not really do justice to either one.
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