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Winchester makes a couple of molehills look like mountains
on 17 November 2003
After reading the other, shining reviews of this book, I was expecting a thrilling account of the historical collaboration between two of the 19th Century's greatest minds, the twist being that one was a murderer.
Now, anyone familiar with Simon Winchester (The Map that Changed the World), may remember his ability to suck the interest out of any subject. This book is no exception. It's length is a mere 200 pages yet he still manages to drag his heels. We hear about the lives of the two protagonists (a word he then attempts to interest us in, using a bewildering array of quotes and citations - probably to demonstrate a point about the arrangement of the quotes in the dictionary): Dr. Minor, tragic life, witnesses horrible things in war, kills Londoner (will leave out circumstances for those still intent in wasting four hours of their lives); Dr Murray, tragic life, scholarship astounding, wonderful, great, woo hoo for linguistics.
There is potential in this story, although not enough to warrant a book. An article would be able to summarise the main points, leaving out the constant (and sometimes downright silly) thoughts of the author.
A problem I had was the repitition of facts. If this work was much longer and followed a more complicated story, repeating parts may be acceptable. The book's length is a mere 200 pages (see what I mean?).
Anyway, the book jumps about, the story is padded out to the extreme and Simon Winchester is hailed as a great author. As an avid reader of historical non-fiction, I heave a sigh of resignation: his success with this piece will probably mean more books.