The Professor and the Madman (published under the kinder title “Surgeon of Crawthorne” in the UK and Commonwealth countries), is a masterfully researched and eloquently written tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary–and literary history.
The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
Fans of this book may want to follow up with Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire, the story of Simon Winchester’s travel from Antarctica to the Caribbean, from the Mediterranean to the Far East, to capture a last glint of imperial glory.