The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and literary history The compilation of the OED, begun in , was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr W C Minor, had submitted than ten thousand When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light Dr Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane


10 thoughts on “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    for each word, there should be sentences that show the twists and turns of meanings the way almost every word slips in its silvery, fishlike way, weaving this way and that, adding subtleties of nuance to itself, and then perhaps shedding them as public mood dictates Herbert Coleridge whose brilliant life was too short.I was driving into work the other day thinking about Herbert Coleridge and realized that I might possibly be the only person on the planet driving to work thinking about for each word, there should be sentences that show the twists and turns of meanings the way almost every word slips in its silvery, fishlike way, weaving this way and that, adding subtleties of nuance to itself, and then perhaps shedding them as public mood dictates Herbert Coleridge whose brilliant life was too short.I was driving into work the other day thinking about Herbert Coleridge and realized that I might possibly be the only person on the planet driving to work thinking about Herbie Of course, there are such a vast number of people on this planet that chances are someone was thinking about him Perhaps some Coleridge scholar working on a dissertation on Herbert s famous grandfather, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or maybe someone thinking about the beginnings of the Oxford English Dictionary Herbert Coleridge was technically the first editor of the OED and would have done a fine job, I m sure, if he hadn t caught a chill and died tragically young at thirty years of age The reason I was thinking about him is because Simon Winchester mentioned him, and my quick research, before leaving for work, had been unsatisfactory in discovering how exactly he was descended from Samuel He was not the son of one of Samuel s sons so that only left the daughter Sara Of course, my first thought was that she must have had him out of wedlock I must formally apologize to Mrs Sara Coleridge for thinking such scandalous thoughts As it turns out, she married her first cousin Henry Nelson Coleridge Herbert was very much a legitimate child Though the idea of creating a complete dictionary of the English language was proposed in 1857 It was not until 1884 that parts of it were ready for publication It floundered for decades under the weight of its own expectations It wasn t until the 1870s, when James Murray was asked to helm the project, that the possibility of achieving such a feat became a real possibility Murray was a precocious talent, a true scholar who was, for the most part, self educatedJames continued to amassandknowledge, if only as he would admit for the sake of knowledge itself, and often in the most eccentric of waysWe are living in an age of specialized knowledge, and too many people only read books or magazine articles that contribute to their specialized knowledge Knowing something for the sake of knowing it has become such an outdated concept as to be considered odd behavior James Murray in the scriptorium built to house all the slips of paper coming in from his readers to compile the OED.Murray knew that this project was too large for the academic community to shoulder alone He placed advertisements asking for help from the whole country He needed readers who would notate words and the sentence they were used in The system Murray developed to handle this influx of information is ingenious, and like most clever systems simple by design One of the people who answered his call for help was an American surgeon named Doctor William Chester Minor He became one of the largest, most consistent contributors to the OED He had a lot of time on his hands given the fact that he was detained in safe custody until Her Majesty s Pleasure be known Doesn t that sound lovely I could almost believe that Minor is sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches while seated at a garden table at Windsor waiting for the Queen to have a chance to see him Unfortunately, it is just a pretty way of saying he is incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane As you learn the details of his life he was most assuredly dangerously insane with roots for this insanity going back to the time he served in the Union army during the Civil War The roots went deeper, in fact back into his genetic history His family was delicate mentally They were bright and brilliant but like many hyper intelligent people wound too tight They felt things too intently Two of his brothers committed suicide Minor was beset by twisted, shattered dreams involving Irish people trying to kill He was a self reproaching masturbator who also has vivid nightmares which fueled his already prodigious self abuseMen would then break into his rooms, place him in a flying machine, and take him to brothels in Constantinople, where he would be forced to perform acts of terrible lewdness with cheap women and small girlsHis delusions wrapped in fear bled dreams into reality causing him to misinterpret events around him This all culminated in one final act which made it readily apparent that his incarceration was the only option left for society It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the Madman and the Professor, without the added distractions of Ingrid Bergman or Paul Henreid.Though Minor was held in Broadmoor for the criminally insane, he had money and, therefore, could enjoyluxury than the normal inmate In fact, he rented a second cell, and that became his sitting room and library He paid another inmate to build him beautiful, teak bookshelves His wealth enabled him to also buy expensive antique books from bookstores not only in England, but from America as well Considering the circumstances, he was beyond just comfortable, and if one can ignore the bars on the windows, you might even say he was pampered Working on the OED helped him focus his mind and probably kept him from spiralling deeper into his own misconceptions Dr William Chester MinorThe OED did not reach completion until 1928 Neither Murray nor Minor lived long enough to see the job done, but without their Herculean efforts the whole idea may have been relegated to another generation or maybe never completed at all As Murray becameandfamous, he becameanduncomfortable with the attentionI m a nobody, he would write toward the end of the century, when fame had begun to creep up on him Treat me as a solar myth, or an echo, or an irrational quantity, or ignore me altogether If we are fortunate, we find a worthwhile task to do while on this planet Murray and Minor both found that task in compiling the English language Winchester does a wonderful job of conveying the absurdity and the wonderfulness of these two men finding so much in common, despite one existing in the hallowed halls of academia and the other existing in the bedlam of an asylum I once dated a young lady who owned a two volume boxed copy of the OED, which also included a small drawer on top for the much needed magnifying glass It was an affordable way to own the twenty volume OED I can remember spending many afternoons randomly turning pages and reading definitions of words I ll probably never read in a novel or ever use in a sentence I was accused by a friend of dating this girl for the primary purpose of having access to her OED I was appalled and offended by such a dastardly assertion I was, if anything, dating her for her F Scott Fitzgerald first edition collection I could eventually afford an OED, but getting my hands on first edition Fitzgerald s was lookingandimprobable Alas, as it turns out, the woman was batshit crazy, so a merging of libraries never occurred I do think back to those halcyon days when she had left for work, and it was just me, the OED, and the Fitzgeralds Sigh If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  2. Stephen Stephen says:

    As a completely fledged bibliopsychotic and an ever striving to be cunning linguist , I was all aquiver with anticipation to bury my face in this purported history of the Oxford English Dictionary OED Alas, despite being well written and thoroughly researched, I m having to fake it a bit to give this a full 3 stars My primary joy dampening problem with the book s arrangement was the dearth of page time given to what I see as the most fascinating aspect of the story the actual nuts and bolts As a completely fledged bibliopsychotic and an ever striving to be cunning linguist , I was all aquiver with anticipation to bury my face in this purported history of the Oxford English Dictionary OED Alas, despite being well written and thoroughly researched, I m having to fake it a bit to give this a full 3 stars My primary joy dampening problem with the book s arrangement was the dearth of page time given to what I see as the most fascinating aspect of the story the actual nuts and bolts of putting together the OED and the history of etymological word cataloging Unfortunately, this element only makes up about 20% to 25% of the book with the majority devoted to the life stories of Professor James Murray, head of the OED project, and Dr W.C Minor, a criminally insane murderer This was a disappointing use of subject matter allocation Most of the biographical portion is devoted to Dr Minor who, admittedly, was a fascinating character with a colorful history The author traces the madman s early career as an Army surgeon during the Civil War, an experience that appears to have been the genesis of his growing dementia We are given insight into Minor s abby normal sexual appetites and his irrational, all consuming fear of Irishmen This potent combination leads eventually to the crime that earned him a permanent residency at Broadmoor Hospital aka lunatic asylum As interesting as this material was, I would have much preferred acliff notey segment on Minor to make room for aexpansive discussion of the highlights below Granted, when Dr Minor coolly and methodically lops off his own penis as a self help remedy to combat the demons causing his bizarre sexual urges I was glued like Elmer s to the page I was also wincing and reading with one hand while the other one was guarding my goodies BTWthe man never even screamed while he removed his appendage I screamed reading about it The guy was a whole bowl of grape nuts As for Professor Murray, I found the portions dealing with him to be tedious and dry I could have done without them completely so his appearance has been edited from this review Still, there is some real gold in the book Even with the relatively scant attention paid to the actual production of the OED, there were a handful of highlights that make this book well worth perusing HIGHLIGHTS The history of word collection, origins and philological research into first usage was nothing short of warm butter on hot bread awesome and I gobbled up every second of it Please give me a full book on this someday squeeeeee These discussions about the research methods and the comprehensive aspect of the undertaken begun in 1857 on the OED was mind boggling I also particularly enjoyed the distinctions drawn between the heterogeneous linguistic melting pot that is the English language and the relatively homogenous, strictly pure bred French language There was one genuine light bulb moment of illumination discussed by the author that really left me floored with mouth agape While giving a run down on the origin of the first dictionary, Winchester discusses the fact that Shakespeare, with his amazingly diverse vocabulary, was able to write such works with no centralized catalog of words allowing him to confirm their proper usage Thiswasstaggeringtome and was easily the most valuable insight I took away from this read I live inside my dictionary both Urban and Oxford and my thesaurus and can t imagine the mastery of language that necessary to create works like Shakespeare s catalog without a linguistic safety net That revelation alone was worth the price of the book for me and further elevated my profound respect for the masterful word smiths of antiquity The discussion of the cooperative process of compiling the OED and the monumental undertaking that such creating the OED was fascinating Tens of thousands of amateur philologists researching and sending Murray s team slips with words and brief histories of their origin, which were then compiled and processed by the Oxford committee This was terrific stuff I would have loved muchon the 3 items above Still, the story is well written and I think the author s regard for the subject matter comes through in the prose Thus, despite my tarnished expectations, I am going to give the doubt s benefit to the book and award it 3 stars because it s one I would recommend so long as you go into it knowing that you will get heavy doses of Murray and Minor and only a light serving of etymology 3.0 stars Recommended with caveats


  3. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes says:

    Professor James Murray was one of the primary editors of the Oxford English Dictionary OED Dr Chester Minor, was one of the primary contributors to the massive project But Murray did not know that Minor was an inmate in an insane asylum Simon Winchester image from Andersons Bookshop The book tells their separate stories, how Murray rose to the prominence necessary to land this major position, how Minor emerged from a troubled, if well to do youth to commit a heinous and addled murder in L Professor James Murray was one of the primary editors of the Oxford English Dictionary OED Dr Chester Minor, was one of the primary contributors to the massive project But Murray did not know that Minor was an inmate in an insane asylum Simon Winchester image from Andersons Bookshop The book tells their separate stories, how Murray rose to the prominence necessary to land this major position, how Minor emerged from a troubled, if well to do youth to commit a heinous and addled murder in London, and then to be institutionalized for the rest of his life The book gives a vivid picture of the times mid to late 19th century Winchester has a gift for bringing history to life, and surprising us.Published September 28, 1008Review April 28, 2017 EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal, Twitter and FB pagesA few other books by Simon Winchester Krakatoa Atlantic Pacific The Map That Changed the WorldThere are plentyWinchester books out there I have listed only the ones I have read


  4. Sean Gibson Sean Gibson says:

    People tend to juxtapose the idea of reading the dictionary with other activities as a means of underscoring how incredibly uninteresting and undesirable those other activities are For example I have to interact with Sean today UGH I d much rather read the dictionary This is an effective comparison for good reason Look, I love words as much as the next guy, but even I find reading the dictionary only slightlyfun than reading the phone book What s a phone book ask all the millenni People tend to juxtapose the idea of reading the dictionary with other activities as a means of underscoring how incredibly uninteresting and undesirable those other activities are For example I have to interact with Sean today UGH I d much rather read the dictionary This is an effective comparison for good reason Look, I love words as much as the next guy, but even I find reading the dictionary only slightlyfun than reading the phone book What s a phone book ask all the millennials simultaneously, scratching their virtual heads Consequently, it may come as a shock to hear that reading ABOUT a dictionary is quite delightful Winchester s chronicle of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary or, at least, the bizarre story of Dr William Chester Minor s contribution to it is a fascinating story of perseverance, mental illness, and logophilia which is not, I assure you, a strange proclivity for fornicating with corporate logos Say what you will about the OED primary critiques might focus on its overwhelmingly white maleness , it s an epic achievement in the history of language, and the fact that a not insignificant portion of its content was contributed by a mentally unstable American murderer who thought that mysterious beings snuck into his room at night to violate him and turn him into a pimp is one of thedelightful intriguing footnotes you ll come across In short, when Professor James Murray, the man tasked with being the architect of the OED, sent out a call for volunteers to assist the editors in compiling examples of how words were used to help contextualize definitions, it was Minor, already an inmate at an asylum after it was determined he was not mentally fit to be jailed for his crime, who stood first or, at least, among the first rank among equals when it came to contributing A brilliant man with nothing but time and blood, one might argue on his hands, Minor diligently scoured pages and pages of texts from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to find the supporting references that are the OED s hallmark That he produced such a prodigious and precise body of work while battling his own inner demons is a testament to his impressive mental faculties.To illustrate just how powerful those demons were, consider, for a moment an exceedingly painful moment that, at one point, in a desperate attempt to reconcile a burgeoning religiosity with past sexual indiscretions and ongoing sex fueled delusions, Minor, a doctor by trade, used a penknife to CUT OFF HIS OWN PENIS Now, look we all have days those of us with penises penii , I mean where we re frustrated with the little guy I, for example, get agitated when I accidentally mix mine up with the garden hose when doing yard work which happensfrequently than you d think on account of similarities in length, girth, and greenness But, still the idea of it being severed, let alone severing it myself sans anesthesia and using a turn of the century penknife well, let s just say that I d rather read the dictionary.This is by turns fascinating, grotesque, tragic, and informative recommended for those who like their historical monographs esoteric and bizarre


  5. Hannah Greendale Hannah Greendale says:

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend Eloquent writing and the talented vocal work of narrator Simon Jones make this brief account of one of the greatest known editors of the OED and his longtime collaborator a man who conducted his research from the confines of an asylum a fascinating read listen Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend Eloquent writing and the talented vocal work of narrator Simon Jones make this brief account of one of the greatest known editors of the OED and his longtime collaborator a man who conducted his research from the confines of an asylum a fascinating read listen


  6. Cecily Cecily says:

    This is the fascinating, incredible, but true story of the 70 year project to compile The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles a biography of words that became The Oxford English Dictionary OED Not that you d know that from the title I enjoyed the storythan the novelistic telling of it.Imagine when there was no dictionary when looking something up was impossible That s how it was for Shakespeare, hence his coinages are the ones that stuck, whether or not they were This is the fascinating, incredible, but true story of the 70 year project to compile The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles a biography of words that became The Oxford English Dictionary OED Not that you d know that from the title I enjoyed the storythan the novelistic telling of it.Imagine when there was no dictionary when looking something up was impossible That s how it was for Shakespeare, hence his coinages are the ones that stuck, whether or not they were usual for the time Winchester thinks this might have been frustrating, whereas I imagine the Bard having the lexical confidence of Humpty DumptyWhen I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean neithernor less The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master that s all From Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll another Oxford connection.Image Humpty Dumpty, by Mervyn Peake Source The GoodThis is a gripping story of triumph over multiple adversities, with touches of Victorian gothic the promised murder and madness, as well as passion for the project, thwarted titillation, and grim self harm Winchester describes the family background, collaboration, and relationship between the primary editor Sir James Murray , and American ex army surgeon Dr William Minor, incarcerated after he murdered a stranger while deluded , including some surprising parallels in the outwardly very different men A relationship that would combine sublime scholarship, fierce tragedy, Victorian reserve, deep gratitude, mutual respect, and a slowly growing amity that could even be termed friendship. The three main characters, Murray, Minor, and the dictionary itself, are vividly portrayed, and the murder victim, George Merrett, is not forgotten indeed, the book is dedicated to G.M.The history of word lists, thesauruses, and dictionaries, as well as the actual methods for compiling the behemoth OED, are carefully explained Minor was by far the most prolific of the hundreds of volunteers an accurate, methodical, meticulous researcher, submitting up to twenty slips a day fewer in summer forthan twenty years His contribution is staggering even if he were not seriously mentally ill Except that as Winchester points out, if modern psychoactive drugs had been available, maybe Minor would have been less obsessive, less productive.The BadThe misleading titles annoy me The Surgeon of Crowthorne in the UK and The Professor and the Madman in the US The name of the village housing the asylum is not very relevant, nor that Minor was previously a surgeon, and the US title is horribly tabloid as well as inaccurate James Murray was never a professor, nor any sort of university academic He was an autodidact school teacher who was employed by Oxford University Press, and knighted in his 70s, and awarded an honorary doctorate the year before he died.This book has an awkward hybrid tone neither novel nor biography history A particularly egregious example is where Winchester details an important series of incidents, over several pages, before explaining that was what people said at the time because it wasdramatic Only then does he relate theprobable version Much later, he indulges in prurient speculation, before confessing no suggestion exists that it s true.There is disproportionate, dull detail about things not hugely relevant for the main story, such as battles of the American Civil War but I was reading the US edition, which is 35 pages longer and some of the processes and conditions of Broadmoor the asylum Several times, Winchester refers to Doctor Murray , even though the nearest he got to such a title was an honorary doctorate, the year before he died, aged 78 Sloppy.Sometimes Winchester is tripped up by the threads of his own embroidery Because it was annoying me, I noticed he wrote that on 5 November, darkness had fallen on London soon after half past five which is about an hour later than is actually the case Sloppy, again.Winchester rattles off a list of delightful obscure words on p85 and doesn t define or contextualise a single one In a book about a dictionary In a later book, The Meaning of Everything The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, some of these same words are described as words that were nonsensical, but people used them to give the impression that they were wise and clever Others I managed to find definitions of abequitate ride away , sullevation rousing or exciting , commotrix a female who helps makes things happen , parentate perform funeral rites, especially for a parent , adminiculation attestation or corroboration , plus a few compounds whose meaning you can guess.There is no index unforgivable in a book of non fiction or bibliography though there is further reading.These aspects of Winchester s style are presumably a popular feature I had similar issues with The Man Who Loved China see my review HERE.The Indifferent and OddImage Dr Minor among his books Illustration from this edition source The occasional line drawings were a nice idea to give a period feel though I don t think they re especially good Each chapter starts with a lengthy definition of a word that is vaguely relevant to that chapter It would have been nice if they d been ratherunusual Reading about a dictionary, I d have liked to enlarge my vocabulary Winchester s novelistic style makes it readable and immersive, but for some reason, his embellishments often involve anthropomorphised horses The horses did their best, their hooves striking sparks from the cobbles as they rushed the victim to the emergency entrance The book made me snarky, so the equines kept jumping off the page Dr Minor had distinctively American handwriting I wish I knew what that was Anyone Non Trivial TriviaImage An elderly Murray in the Scriptorium Source I was left in awe at the compilers of the first OED, as anyone who reads this will be.For centuries, there were atlases, prayer books, histories, romances, and books of science and art, but no English dictionary as we think of one Shakespeare probably had Cooper s thesaurus, and word lists grouped by subject, but not a dictionary Dr Johnson made huge strides in lexicography, but the delight of his dictionary is its personal quirkiness, rather than scientific rigour and objectivity A well known example Oats a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people The bold and unique aim of the OED was to include every single word, however trivial, alphabetically, with etymology, patterns of use, and examples of each meaning from published sources The OED still shows the meaning and the history of meaning Words are never removed merely marked as archaic or obsolete.Because it was such a huge undertaking, relying on volunteers, it was seen as a democratic product a practice that continues to this day, though perhaps as crowdsourcing.The first OED was 71 years in the making 1857 1928 , though sections were published from 1884 aa to ant.Meanwhile, the first edition of Fowler s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage was published in 1926 Lexicographers find the letter C unusually filled with ambiguities and complexities, not least because of its frequent overlaps with the letters G, K, and S , and the letter T took five years to compile.The 1928 OED was 12 or 10, if Wikipedia is correct volumes, listing 414,825 headwords, with 1,827,306 illustrative quotes The hand set letterpress type was 178 miles the distance from London to the outskirts of Manchester , comprising 227,779,589 letters and numerals plus spaces and punctuation.1988 saw the first electronic version of the dictionary This book was published a decade later, in 1998 The OED has been available online since 2000 For , see OED home Wikipedia on OED Winchester s 2003 book, The Meaning of Everything The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, which is apparently a broader history of the OED Mel Gibson MovieImage Gibson as Murray and Penn as Minor Source Completing the dictionary took far longer than predicted, and so with the film of this story More than 20 years after buying the rights, Mel Gibson s film is due for release later this year See imdb here I was frustrated by some of the fictional fluff in the book, and probably will be with the film it was shot in Dublin, rather than Oxford, London, and Berkshire cheaper 5 for the story, 3 for the writing 4


  7. Jason Koivu Jason Koivu says:

    A man goes insane, shoots another man to death and then helps write one of the first complete dictionaries What an odd way to enter the academic world And believe it or not, those aren t even spoilers Simon Winchester gives us all that right in the title of his surprisingly riveting read The Professor and the Madman A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.The idea of reading a book on the creation of a dictionary only sounded mildly interesting In the hands A man goes insane, shoots another man to death and then helps write one of the first complete dictionaries What an odd way to enter the academic world And believe it or not, those aren t even spoilers Simon Winchester gives us all that right in the title of his surprisingly riveting read The Professor and the Madman A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.The idea of reading a book on the creation of a dictionary only sounded mildly interesting In the hands of the wrong writer that book might not have entertained me from start to finish the way Winchester did Granted the story has its intriguing oddities and the occasional shocking moment, but it s Winchester s ability to dramatize this hundreds of years old story that makes it seem as vivid and catchy as the headlines of the morning newspaper He is a writer who brings legend to life As exciting as I find it, this is a book about making a dictionary and that won t enthrall all readers It gets an extra nudge up in the star department from me, because this is a book about words and I like words If you re still reading this, I suspect you do too


  8. Diane S ☔ Diane S ☔ says:

    Another incredible story that one can put under the heading, Truth is stranger than fiction How lucky we are that now as readers, writers we can just look up a word, find its meaning and pronunciation, but such was not always the case Until I read this book, I never really thought about this before, a time when this valuable resource was not available What a huge undertaking this was, the amount of work staggering.Murray and Minor, two men crucial to the project, but living in very differen Another incredible story that one can put under the heading, Truth is stranger than fiction How lucky we are that now as readers, writers we can just look up a word, find its meaning and pronunciation, but such was not always the case Until I read this book, I never really thought about this before, a time when this valuable resource was not available What a huge undertaking this was, the amount of work staggering.Murray and Minor, two men crucial to the project, but living in very different circumstances One free and the agent in charge of the whole project The other deemed insane and committed to an asylum Yet, he was the most prolific reader and sent in the most additions to the dictionary Brilliant man, but not able to live in society Fascinsting back story there but some of what he does is cringe worthy.A entertaining and informative book that I am glad to have finally read It had been staring at me from my book shelf for quite awhile


  9. Kinga Kinga says:

    If you know me personally or almost personally, then you should be aware that I am quite mad I have a heavy obsession with the alphabet, with inventing bizarre systems that rule just about anything in my life and catalouging things It is quite obvious that a book about a lunatic and creating Oxford English Dictionary would be a winner with me And it was.However, it wasn t perfect Winchester performed some weird narrative experiments For example, he started off with a really exciting scene, If you know me personally or almost personally, then you should be aware that I am quite mad I have a heavy obsession with the alphabet, with inventing bizarre systems that rule just about anything in my life and catalouging things It is quite obvious that a book about a lunatic and creating Oxford English Dictionary would be a winner with me And it was.However, it wasn t perfect Winchester performed some weird narrative experiments For example, he started off with a really exciting scene, then er repeated that scene word by word in the middle of the book And then a chapter or so later, he said it actually never happened This is a non fiction book Also, Simon Winchester is obviously psychic because he can tell exactly what everyone was thinking and feeling ages ago The conviction which he states it all with is imperturbable.It s all forgiven, though, because any book that involves someone cutting their penis off ESPECIALLY non fiction can t get anything less than four stars


  10. Trevor Trevor says:

    I have been meaning to read this book for years I couldn t even tell you when I first saw it or heard about it and thought it would be a good idea to read Then I saw a copy in a bookshop that was going cheap and bought it on my way to my mother s place I showed it to her and then lent it to her She told me she enjoyed it so that made me keen to read it too That was a couple of years ago as you see, I was in no rush I think mum even lent it to my sister to read This was a remarkable b I have been meaning to read this book for years I couldn t even tell you when I first saw it or heard about it and thought it would be a good idea to read Then I saw a copy in a bookshop that was going cheap and bought it on my way to my mother s place I showed it to her and then lent it to her She told me she enjoyed it so that made me keen to read it too That was a couple of years ago as you see, I was in no rush I think mum even lent it to my sister to read This was a remarkable book It might have been a book that didn t quite seem to know how to end but I even liked that about it, perhaps because I was so delighted by it that I wasn t sure I wanted it to end Winchester is a true story teller He does explain an awful lot of what might appear to be extraneous material, but I found all of this utterly fascinating anyway, so wasn t put off in the least The book smashes together not just the story of a insane murderer and so providing an interesting excuse to discuss 19th Century definitions of insanity, murder and the laws pertaining to these but a remarkable range of other events from that century and the early years of the next Central to all this, of course, is also the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and the lives of two central figures in the making of the big dictionary.But thrown into the pot for good measure are also bits of the American Civil War, the part played by the Irish in that war, a discussion of the nature of lunatic asylums and even an incredibly sexy description of the naked, romping girls of Sri Lanka which I can only assume was paid for by the Sri Lankan Tourist BureauAnd there are the girls young, chocolate skinned, giggling naked girls with sleek wet bodies and rosebud nipples and long hair and coltish legs and with scarlet and purple petals folded behind their ears, who play in the white Indian Ocean surf and who run, quite without shame, along the cool wet sands on their way back home The story of Minor, the American who is one of the two protagonists is a terribly touching story There is an interesting discussion about whether there can be two protagonists in any one story which makes a lovely digression and segue into the preoccupation with words and their meanings, both such important themes of this book Minor was a man tortured by demons and caught in a nightmare where only his work in finding quotations of words to be used in the OED offered him any measure of relief.They say there are no atheists in fox holes but I have found that the occurrence of the words penis , penknife and self inflicted wound in a single sentence also has me turning to God and even calling out his son s name in full.The tale of the Irishman branded on the face with a D during the Civil War had much the same effect We tend to forget how muchhumane we have become in such a short time the American Civil War wasn t all that long ago, but behaviours like those described here, performed against soldiers of your own side, would never be tolerated today at least, I hope.I m quite pleased with my prescience in relation to this book pleased to have recommended it before having any idea what it would be like or what it would be about other than the sketchiest of outlines But prescient or not, I feel much better that I can recommend this wholeheartedly now in the certain knowledge it cannot really fail but to delight If you get a chance to listen to the talking book version read by the author I would highly recommend that too