Reviewed By Jessica Stewart, Courier Staff Writer
ďA Scotland Yard detective named Williamson testified that Minor had come to the Yard three months earlier, complaining that men were coming to his rooms at night, trying to poison him. He thought that they were members of the Fenian Brotherhood-militant Irish nationalists-and they were bent on breaking into his lodgings, hiding in the roof rafters, slipping through the windows.Ē
The insanity of Dr. W. C. Minor becomes clear after he shoots an innocent man dead, believing him to be an Irishman trying to kill him. He is sent to an insane asylum from which he helps create the Oxford English Dictionary. The story only gets more interesting as new twists and turns in the plot are revealed. The Professor and the Madman is an interesting story of a madman and a professor and their work to create one of the most famous and detailed dictionaries in the world, the Oxford English Dictionary.
Hoping to be useful while stuck in an insane asylum, Minor writes to the group creating the OED. He finds out that they are having some difficulties and helps them with thousands of words. While doing this he slowly loses more and more of his sanity, imagining that Irishmen are attempting to murder him in the middle of the night. He attempts to solve his problems by performing a successful autopeotomy. In the end he dies, leaving only his name in the OED as proof of his existence that will last forever.
Although the plot of the book is definitely interesting, the little tidbits about Minorís past really spice everything up. It shows some possible roots of his insanity, from growing up with topless women to fighting in the American civil war. He leads an unpredictable life up to the very end, keeping you on your toes.
The most interesting things about The Professor and the Madman, though are the questions it raises as you read. You really get to know Minor and discover that, despite his madness, he is an intelligent man who went from poor beginnings, to a degree in medicine, to a long stay in an asylum. Why did this happen to him, what triggered it? His seemingly perfect life in the beginning leads to unhappiness in the end. Why does his life go from being so good to being utterly horrid? As you reach the end and really reflect upon Minorís character, you find yourself realizing just how fine a line there is between genius and insanity.
The Professor and the Madman is a definite must-read. Everything in it is interesting, from the history of dictionaries to the exploration of Minorís life. Although sometimes hard to understand, it eventually comes together and makes sense along the way. Anyone looking for a good read has struck gold with this book.