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April 2019: History > The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester - 4 stars

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message 1: by Barbara M (last edited Apr 13, 2019 09:38AM) (new)

Barbara M (barbara-m) | 2275 comments I can't believe that I was interested in a book about the long 70 year effort to write a dictionary. Of course that dictionary is the Oxford English Dictionary and one of the main contributors was the "Madman" of the title who committed an unprovoked murder and was then committed for many years in an institution for the criminally insane. So how does that happen?

This was really very well written and kept my interest throughout. The two main characters were the Professor, James Morrow and the Madman, American Civil War doctor, William Minor. We get the background of both men and find out how they became friends who even looked somewhat alike. These two men were fascinating, both very intelligent lovers of words with one very definitely dealing with his own demons.

The book also spent some time explaining the lack of dictionaries at the time when the idea for the Oxford was first conceived in the Victorian Era of the 1800s. The shear volume of the work, the number of words needing to be defined and the organization at a time when there weren't computers is just mind-boggling. With the result being "Twelve mighty volumes; 414,825 words defined; 1,827,306 illustrative quotations used, to which William Minor alone had contributed scores of thousands." Each step was described but I didn't find it boring at all. It wasn't until 1989, using the new abilities of the computer that a fully integrated second edition was produced.

A fascinating book with stories of the people and processes that I will remember. I love fiction and found much of this read as easily as fiction.


message 2: by Booknblues (new)

Booknblues | 6204 comments I loved this book when I read it.


message 3: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6012 comments I also found myself completely fascinated by this!


message 4: by Hebah (new)

Hebah (quietdissident) | 675 comments I read this with the book group I led for a couple years. I remember thinking it was easily the nerdiest book we'd read together, but like you, I found it compelling reading.

It's wild, the things we take for granted as always having existed. I knew intellectually that dictionaries weren't always around, but it was fascinating to see the process of its compilation and realize that... didn't always exist.


message 5: by Joy D (new)

Joy D | 3888 comments I really enjoyed this one too!


message 6: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2504 comments Loved this - it was my first Simon Winchester book and I was hooked!


message 7: by DianeMP (new)

DianeMP | 424 comments This book is one of my favorites. Loved it!


message 8: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7875 comments This is one, when cleaning house recently, I took off my shelf....well it's back on it now-lol-I love words, I love history, and I cannot remember why I cut it. It may have something to do with proving to Amy I could down-size my TBR-🙄😉


message 9: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8858 comments This is like proving to Glenda that you don’t have magic - lol. Don’t forget I am the Faux pretender of TBR slashing!


message 10: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7875 comments Amy wrote: "This is like proving to Glenda that you don’t have magic - lol. Don’t forget I am the Faux pretender of TBR slashing!"

🤣-"but Dorothy, you've always had the power"🤣


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