This is the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester gives background as to what preliminary versions of dictionaries were like and how writers before this time didn't have anything to refer to to check the right usage of the word they were using.
Then Winchester gets into the compilation of the OED and specifically how Professor Murray from Oxford was the one to spearhead the project, even though it took him about 40 years of his life and continued on after his death. We also learn about Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran who quite literally goes crazy and eventually shoots and kills someone, thinking that he was trying to do something bad to him. This lands Dr. Minor in a mental institution in England. One of the few things he finds pleasure in is reading, so when there is a call out for people to help find quotations of word in books, Dr. Minor is up to the challenge. He becomes one of the most helpful contributors to the OED.
I found this book was quite hit and miss for me. There were portions of it that were very interesting and other parts that weren't interesting at all. Murray and Minor's stories kept me interested, but some of the history behind everything bored me. If you're interested in the history of literature, you would enjoy this book!
First Line: "In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marshe, the sound of gunshots was a rare event indeed."