The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Simon Winchester, 1998
It is known as one of the greatest literary achievements in the history of English letters. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857, took 70 years to complete, drew from tens of thousands of brilliant minds, and organized the sprawling language into 414,825 precise definitions. But hidden within the rituals of its creation is a fascinating and mysterious story of a friendship—an account of two remarkable men whose strange 20-year relationship lies at the core of this historic undertaking. Professor James Murray, a former schoolmaster and bank clerk, was the brilliant editor of the OED project.
Dr. W. C. Minor, a retired American surgeon who had served in the Civil War, was one of thousands of contributors who submitted illustrative quotations of words to be used in the dictionary. But Minor was no ordinary contributor. Not only was he remarkably prolific, sending in as many as ten thousand definitions, but he was also a murderer, clinically insane, and locked up in Broadmoor, England's asylum for criminal lunatics.
The Professor and the Madman is an extraordinary tale of madness and genius and the incredible obsessions of two men at the heart of the Oxford English Dictionary and literary history. With riveting insight and detail, Simon Winchester crafts a fascinating glimpse into one man's tortured mind and his contribution to another man's magnificent dictionary. (From the publisher.)
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