Sounds like the beginning of a joke about nerds, doesn’t it? But really, I was immediately sucked in to this odd and genre-bending book about a brilliant editor, an insane Yale alumnus locked up in an asylum after committing murder, and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.
First of all, the book covers a lot of historical ground in telling the life stories of the two men and their obsessions, plus a side story about the man who was murdered. Then there is also the fascinating story of how the OED was compiled, mixed with great trivia about the history of the English language and examples of OED definitions, which alone would have kept me reading. When you combine all that with the author’s precise yet good-humored writing style, you get a truly winning book, if somewhat unlikely in subject and organization.
As with the best histories, this one reads like a novel and includes lots of fabulous and interesting trivia and vocabulary. If you love words and language in general you’ll particularly enjoy this book. It’s an odd pick, but I highly recommend it!
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