Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lovers of Words

One of the things I have loved about working at a university - and one of the things I will miss the most - is the opportunity to participate in a community of scholars, even though I am (not yet) a professor.  

I've shared reviews of books that I read in conjunction with a university project a few times in the past and I want to share one more before I leave here.

The incoming class at this university was required to read a few common texts.  Being a book / language nerd and a lover of fictionalized history (note: that, in my mind, is very different than historical fiction), I was very excited to get my hands on one of the texts for the year, The Professor and the Madman, a book discussing the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  I mean really, is there a more perfect book out there for someone like me to read?!

I read this book in a matter of hours.  I found it full of interesting historical anecdotes, rich in the history of language, and - simply put - a really good story.  The book focuses on two men who are unparalleled in their contribution to the English language: Professor James Murray, who oversaw the committee collecting entries for the OED, and Dr. W. C. Minor, a previously unknown man who contributed tens of thousands of entries in the collection process.  This remarkable tale focuses on the relationship between the two men, as well as their lives aside from the OED, especially after it comes to light that Dr. Minor is serving time in an asylum for  the criminally insane after murdering a man due to his constant paranoia

This book is one of those stories that is so outlandish that it's must be true.  The history surrounding the most ambitious language project our world has ever seen is sensational enough and the task was nearly impossible.  But the lives of those who contributed to the process are even more amazing.  Simon Winchester did a wonderful job of sharing their stories and drawing the reader into their task.  For anyone who is a lover of words the way I am, The Professor and the Madman is a must read.


1 comment:

  1. dang. you never think about how the dictionary came to be. I mean, they had to start somewhere. did they say in the book what the first entry recorded was? "The?" "A?" "Superfluous?"


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