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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know that many--perhaps most--people would not like this book, but what do they know? I loved it. It is informative and concise, what I consider the antithesis of a boring work of non-fiction.

There are two aspects to the story: that of (two of) the people who worked together to make the OED--many of whom were actually volunteers, a fact formerly unbeknownst to me--and the story of the dictionary; or, rather, dictionaries. Since I've had great interest in the latter all my life--and it just so happens that my first interaction with a dictionary was with an abridged version of the OED that also provided Arabic translations--I found this a splendid discussion. (As a kid, a dictionary wasn't simply a book of reference to me. I would usually skim through it, read random definitions, gladly follow references to other words, and voraciously peruse the notes it provided on usage. I don't think that volume had any notes that I haven't read. Of course, I still do that now, but with electronic dictionaries, there isn't much to be done in the way of random reading except the applications' "word of the day".)

It also features a very brief discussion of mental illness--another topic in which I am interested and would like to understand better--as one of the protagonists was schizophrenic.

This was a relatively difficult book to find. I got it used off Better World Books two months ago, and regret not having read it immediately.


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