Rummanah Aasi
  I think the dictionary is one of things that we take for granted. It's usually stuck in some place collecting dust or a dark lit area in the library, which no one visits. Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea of creating a dictionary? Who wrote it and what their lives were like? Perhaps this is the librarian in me speaking out loud and who came across The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester and was intrigued.

Description: The Professor and the Madman explains how the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was created and discusses the relationship between the editor and one of his most influential contributors, a psychotic murderer in one of England's cruelest asylums.



Review: I really wanted to like this book, but it failed to hold my attention. I was hoping for a good nonfiction narrative that would meet the expectation of the book's attention grabbing exerpt. Instead I was left with a book where the author is carried away with is passion of etymology and lexicography and left the two main characters of the story as an afterthought. The Professor and the Madman should have been two books, where one book should solely focus on what a dictionary is and its evolution and the other book discuss the lives of the OED's creators. The book opens when Professor James Murray meets his co-editor Dr. William Minor for the first time. Professor Murray is informed and shocked to learn that his co-editor has been in an insane asylum after murdering a man in London. The book's prologue is the only exciting part of the book, what follows is a melodramatic account of what might have happened when the two meet since their meeting was not recorded by anyone. Much of why Minor is diagnosed of certifiably insane is conjectured by the author- ranging from post traumatic stress disorder that Minor went through after the Civil War to his potential sex addiction and paranoia. The sections on the doctor is repetitive and frankly, short on facts. Winchester's writing seem to have been intended to ring true to the 19th century, but I found him to be pretentious, dry, and dull. This book would have made a great long magazine or book article, but as a book it manages to be exaggerated and not fulfilling.  

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some mature themes discussed in the book including and not limited to sexually transmitted diseases and physical torture.

If you like this book, try: The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester
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