Sunday, December 14, 2008
Book #38, The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester
I enjoyed a switch in gears to non-fiction with Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary, a highly involving account of the unlikely story behind one of the OED's most prolific contributors. Anyone who finds pleasure in stories about people who pursue seemingly insurmountable intellectual/academic tasks, and who has an interest in the history of the English language, should find much of interest here.
Some good links at the OED site about the two protagonists of this non-fiction yarn (and yes, despite Fowler, as Winchester explains, we're quite safe in claiming a plurality of protagonists):
William Chester Minor, Sir James Augustus Henry Murray.
Reading this account has made me that much more appreciative of owning the OED both in physical and electronic format. The magnifying-glass-included one-volume edition, currently in Spain, was probably the most exciting book of a scholarly nature I received during my adolescence -- a fantastic gift from ubergenerous parents to a word-nerdy son. But the CD-ROM version is the easiest, most practical to use -- and it's just so much fun to browse!! And now, off to obambulate (first recorded in 1614) through its myriad entries...