“When anybody asks, 'What are you writing about now?' if I try to reply, the book-in-the-works sounds so idiotic to me that I think, 'Why am I trying to write that puerile junk?' So now I give up; if I could talk about it, I wouldn't have to write it."
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet


The Professor and the Madman

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Well, the European vacation photos are still stuck on my husband's laptop. I'll try to encourage him to share them with me by this weekend.

In the meantime, I have a great book to share with you. You may have heard of it already since it was first published in 1998. It is The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. I downloaded the audible version from

This is not a novel, but in some ways it reads like one. It is a true story about two men – Professor James Murray, who led the enormous task of creating the Oxford English Dictionary; and Dr. W. C. Minor, a criminally insane man who was one of the primary contributors to the project. It is really two stories intertwined.

I know it might not look like the most interesting book when you see that it is about the making of the OED; after all, how can the making of a dictionary be interesting enough to write a book about, right? I guess that depends on how much of a word geek you are. But it gets much more interesting (regardless of your penchant for words – or lack thereof) when you add in the incredible story of the man whose tragic life led to his living in an asylum for many years, where he had the luxury of spending his days contributing to the amazing work of the creation of the OED.

I found this book fascinating. The audible version is only about 7 hours long – I listened to it in one day while mindlessly entering data at work. If you choose the audible version, the narrator is the author, Simon Winchester, who has a very pleasant reading voice. (I suppose I should say here that I have no connection in any way to That just happens to be where I got the book from.)

Let me know in the comments if you have read this or decide to read it. I'd love to know what you think of it!

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At 8/11/2011 10:35 AM, Blogger Jeana wrote:

I read that book several years ago! It was fascinating! I agree that it doesn't sound interesting but it really was good.

At 8/18/2011 9:38 PM, Anonymous HolyMama! wrote:

i think it actually DOES sound fascinating, which ups my geekiness to new levels. but i'm ordering it now, thanks!!

At 8/20/2011 6:06 PM, Blogger Jan/ wrote:

Can't wait to read it. I hope our library can get it for me.

At 8/22/2011 3:24 PM, Blogger LaLa wrote:

I've read it - and you're right, it's very good! I'm reading another weird-but-good book now, a biography of Belle DaCosta Greene, who was the first librarian at JP Morgan's library. Not sure where's it's going but so far, so interesing!

At 8/25/2011 9:14 AM, Blogger MotherT wrote:

I popped over here from Holy Mama's blog, and found myself reading through several months of posts. I haven't read "The Professor and the Madman", but it is on my list. Now, I may have to go find a copy.

I'm a classics reader, so while I have been off with a work-related injury, I have been reading through all of my Jane Austen collection, and reading Louisa May Alcott's "Jack and Jill" to my grandson.

At 8/26/2011 6:35 AM, Blogger Geekwif wrote:

I love that you are all geeky enough to be interested in (or have already enjoyed) this book!


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