In The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester delves into two contrasting yet similar personalities who helped to create the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). One is the professor, Dr. James Murray, a prolific scholar who undertakes the daunting task of creating a comprehensive dictionary; the other is a madman, Dr. William C. Minor, a schizophrenic American residing in England at an insane asylum for criminals and reading prolifically to find the words so needed for the dictionary.
The Professor and the Madman is not primarily about the making of the dictionary. (For a comprehensive history of the Oxford English Dictionary’s genesis and early creation, I would suggest The Meaning of Everything, also by Simon Winchester, which I also enjoyed.) Rather, The Professor and the Madman is a dual-biography of two odd characters, how they came together, and how they were different. While Winchester argues that the story has two protagonists, I felt that William C. Minor was the actual protagonist of this story. This was his story: how, despite madness, he could be of inestimable use to the makers of the dictionary.Continue Reading