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Old 03-21-2009, 11:25 PM   #1
pilotbob
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Discussion: Professor and the Mad Man by Winchestor Simon (spoilers)

This thread is for the discussion of the March 2009 Mobileread eBook Club selection The Professor and the Madman.

All are welcome to join of course.

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Old 03-22-2009, 10:38 AM   #2
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I really enjoyed it, something I hadn't expected. I found it both informative and very interesting.
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Old 03-22-2009, 01:51 PM   #3
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I did't know anyhting about the OED beforehand - apart from the name - and it was really interesting to learn about its history - as well as historical context. I know a bit more about British Victorian times, but this was a new angle.

One thing I did not care so much for, was the mix of facts and fiction. I know hard facts can need a little dressing up to become palatable, but in this case I caught myself early on, thinking the book was fiction, and then wondering why it could get chosen when it was decided the March book club book should be non-fiction. I had a small moment then.
I generally don't like mixing this much fiction into the facts - the lines are too blurred for my taste. It's like historical programmes on TV - they like to dress things up, but it very often feels a bit 'off' to me.

All in all it was good. I felt caught up in the story and looked forward to getting back to the book, though it didn't excite me to the point where I would stay up late just to read
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Old 03-22-2009, 01:58 PM   #4
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One thing I did not care so much for, was the mix of facts and fiction.
OK, maybe I totally missed it, but what part was fiction?

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Old 03-22-2009, 02:05 PM   #5
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OK, maybe I totally missed it, but what part was fiction?

BOb
How to explain... I was thinking of the way it's told. It "reads" like fiction. I mean, I know it's based in real events, and it's quite possible to learn about a great many details, but there's description and dialogue that would - at best - have been extra-polated from letters or diary notes. I'm not saying he's making things up, but a lot of it quite close to being historical fiction that is based in real events.

Last edited by Ea; 03-22-2009 at 02:09 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 03-22-2009, 02:05 PM   #6
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I read this book expecting more... based on the glowing reviews a few others here have given it.

This was, as the author states, and interesting and sad story. I didn't know about the OED and the fact that it contained quotations on usage of each word. How they went about doing this what interesting also. Was this perhaps the first "open source" project ever done? Actually, I also didn't understand why the Oxford press was able to "profit" from so many volunteers works.

I also agree that this was a sad story. But, I have to disagree somewhat with the author about Merritt (was that the name), the guy that Minor killed which caused him to be incarcerated was that important of a figure. Yes, it was a series of events that led to other things, but I'm not sure that really matters. If it weren't him it might have been someone else.

The book did give me a sense of how easy it is to take things for granted. Many of the comforts we have today are only their because of the sacrifice and hard work of one or many. To be able to devote so much time to one project is just unheard of these days. Especially in my current occupation as a software developer. Most people in this industry feel if you have been in a job for a few years you are VERY experienced and senior. To me, having been doing the same thing at the same job for 14 years I find that laughable.

I would rate this 3 of 5 stars I think.

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Old 03-22-2009, 02:08 PM   #7
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I agree with 3 out of 5. It was better than middling, but not all that exciting.
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Old 03-22-2009, 02:10 PM   #8
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I'm not saying he's making things up, but a lot of it quite close to being historical fiction that is based in real events.
Is "sensationalized" what you are going for?

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Old 03-22-2009, 02:14 PM   #9
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I would normally connect that word with something more lurid or 'popular', but perhaps it's just me not knowing English well enough
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Old 03-22-2009, 02:16 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ea View Post
I would normally connect that word with something more lurid or 'popular', but perhaps it's just me not knowing English well enough
The def I have is:

present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy

Which is what it sounds like you are saying. But, it may not be what you mean.

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Old 03-22-2009, 02:18 PM   #11
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I didn't like the way the book was based on the myth of how Minor and Murray met.
It gave the impression that the true story was too slight, and the author had to resort to padding and dissembling to make a book out of it.
Also, the focus on the two men's relationship gave a deliberately misleading impression imho.
Murray chose to be buried alongside a colleague (and presumably a dear friend) when he died. Minor was probably a small part of Murray's life; but it didn't suit the author's agenda to portray their relationship as too unequal.
There was also a lot of imaginative interpretation around the scenes in Ceylon, the murder and speculation about the causes of Minor's illness.

Overall, I felt manipulated and slightly cheated by this book.
5/10

Last edited by Sparrow; 03-22-2009 at 02:21 PM.
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Old 03-22-2009, 02:25 PM   #12
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Quote:
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The def I have is:

present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy

Which is what it sounds like you are saying. But, it may not be what you mean.

BOb
From Random House Dictionary at dictionary.com:
"To cast and present in a manner intended to arouse strong interest, especially through inclusion of exaggerated or lurid details"
That was the way I understood "sensationalized" (even before looking it up). So no, that's not what I meant. I meant that the author embellishes fact, and write them down so it reads like fiction. I mean, you don't believe someone actually wrote down a dialogue word for word in their diary? He would have to make it up. Also descriptions of scenes have a lot of detail and uis described in a manner that is usually found in fiction. I don't think I can describe it better than this.

I assume he's doing it this to make it more palatable and easier to read. As I mentioned, I've seen the same trend in historical TV programmes. It's just not my cup of tea. If the facts are interesting enough, they don't need to be presented as if they were fiction. Perhaps it's because I like facts and are able to 'embellish' and imagine on my own - I don't need to have it pre-digested as I feel this trend is doing.

Edit: Sparrow's "imaginitive interpretation" is another way of saying it.
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Old 03-22-2009, 04:24 PM   #13
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I too really enjoyed it. I didn't know any of the history of the OED and was amazed that the project could run so long without getting terminated along the way for lack of progress.

The author does go off on a lot of tangents and provides trivia about people surrounding the project but I found it all interesting. I had already read his book on Krakatoa so I was expecting this.

On my own tangent... I absolutely cringed during the self mutilation in Chapter 11. I really have to self examine why I'm so desensitized about the murder scene (which didn't get any reaction) but curled up in the fetal position when he pulled out the pen knife.
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Old 03-22-2009, 10:14 PM   #14
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I'm jumping into this group. Hope its okay.

I haven't quite finished it yet - just hit the self-mutilation chapter but my initial thoughts are as follows... I didn't mind the story-telling style applied to history. I have experienced it before with authors like Alison Weir and find that it makes it easier for non-hardcores like me to wade through historical events. I will say, however, that the author might be trying a little too hard to imitate a certain style of Victorian writing that I actually found a little off-putting. The way that I often have a hard time accepting a gender reversal in an author's main character, I guess I also find it distracting when a modern author imitates the voice of another era although I can understand why this particular author made this choice. I also found that the author repeated himself in the book and I can't tell if that was for effect or if he just forgot that he had explained that point previously. On the whole, however, I think the 3 out of 5 is fair. The topic is interesting and it hasn't been hard going. Plus it totally makes me want to go out and get a dictionary...unfortunately not the OED. Did anyone else think that Samuel Johnson's dictionary would make a great read or is it just me?

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Old 03-23-2009, 01:27 AM   #15
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... The way that I often have a hard time accepting a gender reversal in an author's main character,
...
Mel
I'm not quite sure I can follow you - do you often read books where the main character changes gender?
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