What is the theme of The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester is a biography of Dr. William C. Minor, an American Army surgeon who was a major contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. Minor was born to a family of American missionaries working in Ceylon, attended Yale University in the United States, and obtained his medical license in 1863.  His delusions, which had begun in childhood, became worse as he grew older, and in 1871, while he was living in London, he shot and killed a man. At his trial, he was convicted, and sentenced to Broadmoor, a notorious asylum for the criminally insane. Despite various paranoid delusions, he was well-educated and well read, and offered to help out on the research for the Oxford English Dictionary. He became one of the more prolific contributors to the dictionary project and a friend of the editor, James Murray.

The main theme of the book is the meticulous labor behind the dictionary, and Minor's contribution to it. A particularly interesting thematic concern is the way madness is handled. Although Minor had many paranoid delusions, his actual work on the dictionary was extremely sane and unbiased.


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