Monday, June 25, 2007
The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Simon Winchester.1998.Penguin Books.198 pages.
This is the second Winchester book Ive read.He seems to have the knack of unearthing stories that are stranger than fiction.He seems to possess the ability and gift to find unusual characters and vividly bring them to life through detailed descriptions of their social circumstances and place them in a context a simple reader like myself can grasp.
This book concerns two different men and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary that brought them together.
The author traces the early history of dictionaries and the background leading up to the decision to create the OED, its birth pangs and slow development through to its completion.
The sheer logistics,organisation and paperwork in pre-computer Victorian society are impressive.
"The total length of type-all handset,for the books were done by letterpress is 178 miles the distance between London and the outskirts of Manchester".(pg 189).
Further down the same page"Discounting every punctuation mark and every space...there are no fewer than 227,779,589 letters and numbers"(pg 189).
The author has a highly readable style.Each chapter is headed with a dictionary style defintion of a word from the OED.This serves two purposes.Obvivously the word is relevant to the chapter it starts.It also illustrates the depth of each defintion and the scholarship involved in producing the dictionary.
An interesting,diverting read.Recommended.