The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary

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9780140868630: The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary

W.C. Minor was one of the keenest volunteers involved in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. What the OED's editor, James Murray, didn't realize was that he was also a millionaire, American Civil War surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder.

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Subtitled "A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words", this is a remarkable account of the life of WC Minor. Not a famous name, but a quite extraordinary man. Minor was an American Army surgeon and millionaire who contributed enormously by post to the first, epic edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) while hidden away in obscurity in Berkshire, England. As the author points out, the OED is the most important work of reference ever created, and, given the globalisation of the English language, is likely to remain so for centuries. But when in 1896 Sir James Murray, the formidable editor of the OED, at last travelled down to Berkshire to find this elusive lexicographer and thank him for all his work, he found Minor in Broadmoor: patient Number 742.

Minor was educated, gentlemanly, industrious and a psychopathic killer, who had gunned down a man at random in the London streets because he believed his victim was an Irish terrorist after his blood. Simon Winchester won't win any prizes for the elegance of his prose style, but he has dug up a strange and extraordinary life story and turned it into a compelling piece of historical detective work. He never really penetrates into the central mystery of Minor's madness, because no-one can. The mystery remains, inviolable, and makes his tale all the more darkly compelling. --Christopher Hart

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