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Book Review: The Professor and the Madman

I'm not much for mysteries or thrillers, but I love true crime and true mystery. It adds so much to the mystery when you know the events are true; it always makes me feel like I'm in on a big secret of some kind. Lately I've been listening to audiobooks of books I already have on my shelves in an effort to clean my shelves off faster. I have a lot of time to listen to audio while I am working, so I decided to do this with Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman because I wasn't sure I would really enjoy the book after hearing mixed reviews of it. The audio is read by the author, which was fine. He added a lot of drama to the story with his British accent.

The story is about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, but really more about one of its avid contributors. When the OED started they put out advertisements for readers. People who would read books looking for words and then write quotations where the word appears in an effort to trace the evolving definition of the word. You can see that this would be a tedious process, but the man in the story, Dr. W. C. Minor, had a lot of time. Because he was in an insane asylum.

Professor James Murray, the man in charge of the OED, becomes curious about the prolific Minor because of the volume of letters he sent to the OED. Murray has no idea the man is mentally unwell, and this is where the story really gets interesting.

I can't decide how I really felt about this book. It was a great story and something I'm interested in. There was a lot of drama and intrigue which made it fun and really different from what I expected, which was a straight forward account of the making of the OED. If you're interested in dictionaries and words then I'd say this is one worth checking out, but if you're really not I'd move on. The story got a little slow in parts and I didn't find myself running back to finish it.

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