Minor is Major
Could only an incarcerated madman have had the time to become the most important contributor to one of the most prestigious dictionaries of all time? According to Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman, an intellectual madman, who was locked in an insane asylum, had over twenty years to become the greatest contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). This book covers a time span from the sixteenth century up to the twentieth century. The Professor and the Madman was published in 1998 by HarperCollins Publishers Inc. in New York, New York and is a national bestseller. The Professor and the Madman creatively puts together the lives of Dr. William Chester Minor and Professor James Murray and gives the background of how these two intellectual men worked together to produce the OED. In describing the events and history behind the OED, Winchester uses a complex method of style and presentation to structure this historic piece of literature in which people can analyze the content for themselves.
Winchester thoroughly describes the events and history behind the OED and the people who contributed to putting it together. Minor was a sensitive soul from a wealthy family who seems to have been “pushed over the edge” following his experiences in the American Civil War. After heading to Britain to escape his inner demons, Minor started constantly carrying a gun and going to wild bars, and became very promiscuous, which contributed to his disturbing behavior. He then killed an innocent bystander by the name
of George Merrett and ended up in an insane asylum. While in the asylum, Minor began a correspondence that led to his becoming the most important contributor to the OED. A group of aristocrats who cared deeply about the English language decided to produce “the dictionary to end all dictionaries,” which became the OED. The creation of the OED began in 1857 and took over seventy years to compile its 414,825 precise definitions. Professor James Murray, an astonishingly educated schoolmaster and bank clerk, was the distinguished editor of the OED. Winchester also goes on to explain how for two decades, Minor and Murray maintained a close relationship solely through correspondence. Finally, in 1896, after Minor had sent nearly ten thousand definitions to the dictionary, but had still never met with Murray, a puzzled Murray set out to visit him. When Murray arrived at the asylum, he finally learned the truth about Minor’s past. So began Minor’s friendship with Professor James Murray, who spent more than 40 years editing the OED but did not live to see it finished in 1927. These two men overcame tragedy and insanity to compile one of the greatest literary achievements of all time.
Winchester uses a complex method of style and presentation to structure his remarkable piece of literature. This book is quite hard to follow and does not flow smoothly. He starts the book off with the scenario of Merrett’s murder; then in the next chapter, he skips over to the format of the OED, and in that same chapter he goes on to
point in the book, Winchester is writing about when an Irish soldier tried to run away from the Civil War, and his punishment was to have a “D” branded on his cheek. Branding was one of the typical methods of punishment for a deserter. One last
distinctive visual style that Winchester uses is that he puts one or more definitions from the OED at the beginning of each chapter, which helps bring the focus back to the OED. Winchester uses distinct and creative methods to compose this historic piece of art.
Since the release of The Professor and the Madman in 1998, many people have thoroughly analyzed the content of this astounding piece of literature. If The Professor and the Madman were not labeled history, readers might suspect that it was the work of an overly imaginative novelist with a weakness for melodrama. What Winchester wrote actually happened, complete with literary intrigue, Civil War horror, and the human mysteries of insanity. Since Winchester is a British journalist and has written twelve other books, his credibility is strong enough to support the points in the book. Even though this piece of literature is hard to follow, Winchester consistently explains his material so completely that the factual basis for his conclusions is beyond reproach. The Professor and the Madman is a national bestseller but is not necessarily a book for
dictionary. With a content analysis, one can determine whether or not he is interested in this historic piece of art by Winchester.
The Professor and the Madman gives a great overview of the history and background of an indispensable resource book. The OED is still, after almost a hundred years, one of the most popular dictionaries. While looking up words in the OED, most people probably do not realize the bizarre history and the seventy years that were put into making the OED. After reviewing The Professor and the Madman, a person would want to encourage others to read this remarkable piece of history.