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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.)

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.)

1 rating: 4.0
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1 review about The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of...

A riveting tale of madness, yet in a very British, pointed and elegant way.

  • Dec 8, 2008
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This is an honest book. By "honest," I mean that it lets us know the fatal, tragic, and amusing flaws of its two protagonist: 1) a bewildered, curious philologist and 2) a brilliant madman, housed in an asylum, with a fascinating past. Both these men are hard-workers and fierce individualists. But the similarities, on a surface level, end there. One is respectable, if guarded and obsessed with the Oxford English Dictionary (or, as the book calls it, the OED). The other is a psychotic, having mistakenly killed a man in a neurotic rage. Yet, the OED is their crossing-point, the place where the two meet and get to know each other.


In the simplest sense, this was a pleasurable read. The story was crafted with such a precise hand. In particular, I appreciated the back-and-forth of the text (which wasn't confusing, just fun). I learned about how each man got to be in their positions, including childhoods in Ceylon and dramatic Civil War stories. It was a true story that, for its sheer twists and turns, seemed like fiction. I wanted to know about the characters. I craved more and more information about the making of the OED. For all these reasons, I now have an immense respect for the dictionary (as opposed to the dread it evoked during my childhood).

I highly recommend this book -- for the stories, the history, and the wonderful writing. It is also a fairly slim book, perfect for commuters or anybody who doesn't want to be laboring over a book for very long.

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December 09, 2008
I've heard about this book... Now I definitely have to read it after your review.
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