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Staff Picks Category: Dictionaries

The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of murder, insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester []



The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary containing 414,825 definitions was begun in 1857 and took 70 years to complete.  The first edition of the OED was given to President Coolidge and is in the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum at Forbes Library.  The “Professor” is  James Murray, a former schoolmaster and bank clerk, and the editor and leader of the OED project. The “madman” is Dr. W. C. Minor, a retired American Civil War surgeon who was the largest contributor with over 10,000 entries to the OED project.Minor was an extraordinary contributor but he was also a murderer, clinically insane, and incarcerated in  Broadmoor, England’s asylum for criminal lunatics. Winchester tells the history of the dictionary as well as the biographies of Murray and Minor.  While parts are long-winded, the story of the dictionary appeals to those who love words, books and libraries.  The biography of Minor appeals to those interested in the mind, behavior and psychology.  Readers who enjoy psychological fiction and are looking for a non-fiction bookmight also enjoy this.

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