This is such a fascinating book. Prior to reading it, I had no knowledge of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, of the mammoth task of compiling an authoritative list of all words used in the English language, citing printed examples of the use of each word… And in a time long before the advent of computers! I loved reading about the history of dictionary-making, including Samuel Johnson’s contributions to the task he set himself a century earlier than James Murray was asked to take on the role by the Philological Society in the late nineteenth century. The very idea that volunteers were recruited to carry out the enormous task of collecting words, and written evidence of their existence in quotations is simply incredible, when we consider the already vast collection of books printed by the end of the 1800s.
When we learn about the life and work of one of the most important contributors, William Minors, the story of the origin of one of the biggest dictionaries of the English language in the world becomes one of fascination, intrigue and grisly horror! Minors adds to the work of James Murray and his office staff whilst a patient in Broadmoor, built in 1863 and still a high security psychiatric hospital today. We read of Minor’s deeply troubled mind, how events in his past affected, and may have contributed to, his mental health, and how his sharp intelligence and well-read brain assisted him in his tireless work on the dictionary. He was actively encouraged in his labours by the hospital staff and governor, until he could no longer work due to illness, and his subsequent release and return to his family in America. So much is contained in the wonderful slim volume, I would definitely benefit from reading it again at some point.