Simon Winchester

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This is a brilliant reconstruction of a most improbable event: the major contributions made to the great Oxford English Dictionary by a deeply delusional, incarcerated 'madman,' and the development of a true friendship between him and the editor of the dictionary. One sees here the redemptive potential of work and love in even the most deeply psychotic patient.

Incongruously the patient is an American physician who was discharged because of service-related mental instability from the U.S. Army after the Civil War and received a pension for life. He went to Europe to seek relief of his delusional symptoms and ended up killing a man. Judged to be criminally insane, he was institutionalized at the newly built showpiece of the British penal system, the Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Broadmoor. While there he read an advertisement requesting volunteer help in reading specific books and making word lists and describing how the words were used in the books for the preparation of the new Oxford English Dictionary.

Over the next twenty years Dr. Minor, who was a voracious reader and had accumulated a large library, became the greatest contributor and maintained a lively correspondence with the famous editor, Dr. James Murray. For these many years they never met and Dr. Murray did not suspect that Dr. Minor was insane and institutionalized. After their meeting they became friends. The institutional care appeared to be very humane and Dr. Minor was a special patient in many ways, yet never regained his normal demeanor.

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