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

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English DictionaryThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally published February 1st, 2014
Apparently, this book is the second of a pair about the Oxford English Dictionary. The first is called The Meaning of Everything: The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (ME). They aren’t sold as a pair, but I wouldn’t have wanted to read this book without having read the first one. When I first heard about the two of them I was much more interested in reading The Professor and the Madman (PM). Much more exciting title. But after having read both I enjoyed ME more than PM. They both stand on their own as complete novels, but they complement each other so well that I have a hard time picturing reading either one of them alone; although if you were going to do that I’d pick ME and not PM. There was just so much more to ME. It gives you the whole making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Professor and the Madman only mentions it in bits, where it directly affects the life of Dr. WC Minor, one of the OED‘s most prolific contributors. As usual, Winchester is detailed, eloquent, and loquacious. I can only imagine the months of research he must have done to produce these novels. Each chapter of PM opens with the OED‘s definition of a word that features as the “theme” of that chapter. Complete with roots forms, usage history, pronunciation, and illustrative quotations. James Murray would have been proud. My only real complaint with the novel is Winchester’s frequent use of salacious detail. He writes at length about the appearance of the Ceylon village girls Minor watched playing in the ocean growing up, but doesn’t tell us what Minor’s mother looked like. I’m sure the fact that these village girls were naked has nothing to do with this. Winchester soaks the whole island in sensuality. To me it reeks of colonialism; as though Ceylon were a Garden of Eden with every delight just waiting to be taken advantage of, instead of an island that was already populated, with resources already being used. In the whole of the book it’s a minor complaint, but it gets on my nerves.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Say a thing!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s