Biography/History

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

I picked this book up for a dollar at the used book store, and I really enjoyed myself quite a bit.

It starts out with how Dr. Minor and Sir James Murray met each other over  a long period of conversing via letters.

The two had been talking for a very long time without ever meeting, Dr. Minor would make up all sorts of excuses as to why he was unable to meet James Murray for a face to face talk. Murray wanted to make sure that Dr. Minor received the credit he deserved since he was unable/unwilling to show up to talk in person about his contributions to this masterwork.

Eventually, Murray did make a trip to go see Dr. Minor. He shows up at an insane asylum and was greeted by one of the doctors he assumed was Dr. Minor, after making his own introduction there was a strained and awkward pause when the doctor explained that he was not Dr. Minor. He explained that doctor Minor was in fact a patient there, not one of the physicians.

From there the book goes into the background of both Murray and Minor, and Minor has an interesting history. He was a war medic in the Civil War, he may have started out mentally sound before this, but coming out of the war he started showing breaks in his mental health. He would accuse people of coming into his room at night and poisoning him, looking for intruders that werent there, and being excessively paranoid. He also became super suspicious of the Irish as well, asking Inn keepers if there were any Irish servants or guests and demanding they be removed.

Dr. Minor’s insanity took him to murder, and he was deemed mentally insane and escaped the death penalty.

The book is rather short, so I can’t get too much of the plot without giving a full summary.

There was a little bit of repetitiveness and fluffed up writing, trying to stretch this story into a full book, but it wasn’t that bad.

There were however some missteps when it came to conveying what schizophrenia is, the author is a historian and not a psychiatrist, and I think that showed. I have a degree in psychology and immediately some things jumped out to me as being wrong. However, the overall story that was told was interesting, it was written in an engaging way, and I learned a lot about the formation of one of the biggest challenges ever under taken. In the end the Oxford English Dictionary took up 12 leather bound tomes worth of work and it was primarily done by just a handful of people. That’s mindblowing to me, and it should be for you.

Overall I gave this book a 4, it was engaging, it served its purpose, I learned a ton and it was a quick easy read. I recommend this for people who like those 1 hour documentaries on History channel of strange bits of history.

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