The Surgeon of Crowthorne - Simon Winchester

In our times, those who spend their time editing Wikipedia are often thought of as romantics trying to coax wisdom from the chaos of open access editing. Media and academics routinely mock Wikipedia as a reference because of the variable reliability of its articles.
As I read ‘The Surgeon of Crowthorne’, I felt heartened by the ability of Dr. Minor to make such a major contribution to one of the most important publications of the last few centuries – The Oxford Dictionary. In our age of hipster judgements the deep involvement of this sad mad murderer in the Dictionary would have the twits of the world calling for the sacking of the editors and the pulping of the texts. Just so with Wikipedia, as the same twits focus on the weirdo editors mixed in with the dependable hacks and the geniuses.
Simon Winchester cleverly uses the life of Minor as a fascinating personal context for weaving the story of the Oxford dictionary.  Tracking Minor's contributions also leads us into the machinery of the research and the lives of the editors and staff particularly Dr Murray.
I was left with a sense of the wonderful chaotic and fragile tapestry of life where the solidity of one of the greatest reference texts is partly based on the work of a madman.
Since Wikipedia was launched in 2001 (!) it has exploded in terms of scope, scale and usage. The OED took nearly 30 years to get to edition 1.  I sincerely hope that Wikipedia can develop a similar maturity by it's 30 year anniversary, and perhaps prove to be as momentous a publication as the OED...

See The Surgeon of Crowthorne (Wikipedia)

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