July Book Club

This month's read is “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

From Publishers Weekly

The Oxford English Dictionary used 1,827,306 quotations to help define its 414,825 words. Tens of thousands of those used in the first edition came from the erudite, moneyed American Civil War veteran Dr. W.C. Minor?all from a cell at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Vanity Fair contributor Winchester (River at the Center of the World) has told his story in an imaginative if somewhat superficial work of historical journalism. Sketching Minor's childhood as a missionary's son and his travails as a young field surgeon, Winchester speculates on what may have triggered the prodigious paranoia that led Minor to seek respite in England in 1871 and, once there, to kill an innocent man. Pronounced insane and confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon a call for OED volunteers in the early 1880s. Here on more solid ground, Winchester enthusiastically chronicles Minor's subsequent correspondence with editor Dr. J.A.H. Murray, who, as Winchester shows, understood that Minor's endless scavenging for the first or best uses of words became his saving raison d'etre, and looked out for the increasingly frail man's well-being. Winchester fills out the story with a well-researched mini-history of the OED, a wonderful demonstration of the lexicography of the word "art" and a sympathetic account of Victorian attitudes toward insanity. With his cheeky way with a tale ("It is a brave and foolhardy and desperate man who will perform an autopeotomy" he writes of Minor's self-mutilation), Winchester celebrates a gloomy life brightened by devotion to a quietly noble, nearly anonymous task.


GRAND INQUISITOR: VACANT

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  • Pat C.

    Hi Kevin, we missed you. It is always good to see you each month. I too hope your friend is healing well.

    July 20, 2012

  • Penelope

    Thoroughly enjoyed the discussions and interaction with the members

    July 19, 2012

  • Dianne J.

    We had an excellent discussion as always with almost everyone sharing their opinions and perceptions.

    July 18, 2012

  • CherylAnn P.

    loved the discussion

    July 18, 2012

  • Janice T.

    Hope your friend will make a good recovery.

    July 18, 2012

  • Kevin M.

    Hi everyone! Just wanted to apologize for not showing up last night. My coworker and close friend suffered a heart attack at work yesterday and I spent the evening at largo medical with him and his family. Thankfully he made it through and is recovering in the Icu today. I know we are limited to 20 now, and if I had remembered to let everyone know, someone could have had my spot. Sorry again..

    July 18, 2012

  • Pat C.

    Another enjoyable evening--animated discussion, friendly people, beautiful views of Tampa Bay

    July 18, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    it was great as always

    July 18, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Ok, thanks, that's really helpful.....happy to be the GI tonight.

    July 17, 2012

  • Dianne J.

    You can go to ReadingGroupguides.com. They have a discussion guide for this book as well as hundreds of others.

    July 17, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hi
    I can be grand inquisitor , I'd just like a bit of help putting some questions together as I read the book some time ago and dont have a copy. i really loved it at the time....I bought a copy recently for the book club meeting only to find it has a different title here compared with Australia and I had already read it as ' The Surgeon of Crowthorne', so I returned it!

    July 17, 2012

  • Janice T.

    Perhaps this duty should rotate between members.
    With 20 attending monthly, no one would be required to do this more than once every 1.5 - 2 years. Our selections are known months in advance, and it is not difficult to find discussion questions, at least not in my experience.

    July 17, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Is anyone interested in being the Grand Inquisitor for this book?

    July 16, 2012

  • Pat C.

    Although I found it tedious reading at times, I am glad I just finished the reading of The Professor and the Madman. It has provoked a great deal of thought about post-traumatic stress, legacy, and attitudes toward mental health. I look forward to discussing it with everyone.

    July 5, 2012

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