The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester

Book: The Professor and the Madman
Author: Simon Winchester
Why I Read It: I was researching the origin of words for a class and I came across this story of how the Oxford English Dictionary was created.
First Line: In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gunshots was a rare event indeed.
First Impression: Murder, insanity and the making of the OED? I am definitely on board!
Last Impression: Wow. This was amazing. Much more story than history, which I was not expecting, but loved it from start to finish. Also, the dictionary entries at the beginning of each chapter were fun.

Overall – 4 Heart Skipped A Beat
Characters – 4 The characterization of these two men is touching; figures from the past are usually brought alive from the pages of history with broad strokes, here they are detailed in their thoughts and actions, and tinted in a deferential light.
Story – 3 The story is equal parts history lesson and character study of the two men behind the first edition of the OED. The story is interesting, but it is not what drives the reader on.
Narration – 4 While most might find the subject a bit dull, Winchester clearly does not and his curiousity to discover the past is tangible on the pages. His description of dictionary history is tainted with wonder, and the reader can't help but share the awe at such a feat. His word choice, perhaps more noticable in a book about words, is careful and decisive. Each and every word used feels purposeful.

Read Again? I most certainly will read this book again. It was a fun piece of history that I have already had the craving to revisit.
Tell Others to Read? Depends upon the person. This book walks that line between creative nonfiction and historical fiction, so if the reader likes books in either of those genres, then yes.

Excerpt: And sometime in the early 1880s one copy, at least, left inside a book or slipped between the pages of a learned journal, found its way to one of two large cells on the top floor of Block 2 of the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Crowthorne, Berkshire. It was read, voraciously, by William Minor, a man for whom books, with which one of his two cells was lined from floor to ceiling, had become a second life.
     Doctor Minor had been an inmate at Broadmoor for the previous eight years. He was deluded, true; but he was a sensitive and intelligent man, a graduate of Yale, and well read and curious. He was, understandably, preternaturally anxious to have something useful to do, something that might occupy the weeks and months and decades that stretched without limit -- "Until Her Majesty's Pleasure Be Known" -- before him.
     This invitation from a Dr. James Murray of Mill Hill, Middlesex, N.W., it seemed, promised an opportunity for intellectual stimulus -- and perhaps even a measure of personal redemption -- that was far better than any he could otherwise imagine. He would write, immediately.

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