**The Professor and the Madman**is a very interesting biography by Simon Winchester, who has written quite a few different types of books. The subtitle is

*"A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary."*What is amazing to me was what an absorbing tale it is! Professor James Murray was the first editor of the incredibly massive undertaking of the first complete dictionary of the English Language, which took seventy years to finish, beginning in 1857. One person he got a great deal of assistance from was Dr. William Chester Minor, who was one of the thousands of contributors who submitted illustrative quotes showing the different nuances of a particular word's usage.

It turns out that Minor was in an insane asylum in Crowthorne, fifty miles from Oxford. The book tells of the relationship that developed over thirty years between the two men, and how for such a long time Murray didn't know that his colleague was mad. Minor was afflicted with what now is labeled paranoid schizophrenia, killed a man, and the only treatment at the time was to lock up the patient behind bars. One thing that I was struck with, over and over, was that if the treatment that exists today had been available then, Minor would most likely never have completed all that he did for the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). The task gave him a focus for his entire incarcerated life, and I wonder whether other geniuses might lay hidden under the lithium-induced state of present-day victims of schizophrenia. The author raises that very question toward the end of the book. The picture on the cover (at right) was taken of William Minor, which surprised me when I finally figured it out from the contents of the book. At first, I was sure this was a picture of the professor. The link at the beginning of these two paragraphs goes to the Amazon website where I found several copies of this 1998 book still available for very reasonable prices. It was a truly absorbing read.

And now onto the book that I'm reading right now:

**The Man Who Loved Only Numbers**, the story of

**Paul Erdős**, a Hungarian mathematician who died in 1996 at the age of 83. Paul Hoffman's biography of Erdős tells the story of a man who traveled constantly, never had a home to speak of, lived out of a plastic bag, and never cared about anything except, well, numbers. (That first link takes you to Amazon in order to find out how to order it, and the second takes you to the Wikipedia link about Erdős himself.) I am not finished with this book, but my mind has already been opened in many ways to the mystery of numbers. I knew a little about prime numbers, not very much, but they never seemed all that interesting to me in the first place. I didn't realize that there are perfectly sane people who spend their entire lives thinking about them. (Okay, maybe not perfectly sane, but they are not locked up.) (smile)

For those of you who don't know what makes a number a

**prime number**, integers like 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, and 17 are numbers that are evenly divisible only by themselves and the number 1. Except for 2, all prime numbers are odd. They don't follow any particular order, and there is no known useful formula that yields all the prime numbers and no composites. At first, I wondered why anybody would even CARE, but then, while pondering their attraction, I suddenly remembered how incredibly fascinated I was years ago when I first learned about the Golden Mean or, more correctly, the

**Golden Ratio.**I have been amazed at how many times I have seen this same pattern in nature:

From Wikipedia |

:-)

Very interesting. My older daughter majored in math and is now the chairman of the math dept at her high school. I was never good at numbers, never even took 2nd year algebra, trigonometry, or claculus. Just 1st yr algebra and plane geometry, for which I got Bs and Cs.

ReplyDeleteShe apparently inherited the math gene from her biological father, who majored in math and chemistry at Stanford and later became a medical doctor after being a math teacher for several years.

Thanks for the book reviews! Sigh - more books to add to my ever growing list!

ReplyDeleteDid not like math in school but found algebra easy although I stayed away from trig and calculus. I do seem to have a brain for numbers; and if I were in school today, I would tackle higher mathematics. Amazing how we change as we grow older. :D

ReplyDeleteThere is more to numbers than I realized. I had no idea I would reach 76 but here I am and Patty is now 74.

ReplyDeleteI am reading some of the Foxfire books. I bought an read #4 and enjoyed it. Patty got #2 from the library and I spent a lot of time reading late yesterday and laughing outloud at some of the things the people did because of ghosts and "haints" and I am not sure if a haint is a haunted place or what. Anyway, I laughed my head off.

A little of my husband's fascination with numbers has rubbed off on me over the years, DJan. I've always loved solving tricky math problems though and Sudoku is a fun thing to do with numbers.

ReplyDeleteYou are such an adventurous reader! I don't know if I could get through either of these, and yet I can see where they would be interesting. My reading lately has been trying to keep up with Time and Newsweek, which keep arriving before I can finish the last one, or two. I have been spending a lot of time sewing, and then there is shopping and decorating and..... I'm busy!

ReplyDeletenice i have read the prof and the madman...good book...will have to check out the second one...

ReplyDeleteCareful DJan, numbers are highly addictive. While my preference has always been for chemistry & physics I still like numbers. Hubby and I have had several long discussions and numerous short ones on mathematical subjects. He was studying for an technical exam once and was a little taken aback when his blond wife explained the Pythagorean Theorem to him.

ReplyDeleteOh Lordy, Math and numbers..not exactly my strong suit..but I am thankful for the people that understand it! :)

ReplyDeleteIt's all so confusing.

ReplyDeleteI never know what you're going to come up with next but I think I'll give these books a miss if you don't mind. I'd rather read a good mystery. I know, I know, don't knock it till you've tried it but my head is already buzzing with numbers, like how many Christmas presents I've still got to buy etc etc

ReplyDeleteBlessings, Star

These sound really interesting! I'll have to bookmark your post in my "to read" file for books (which keeps getting longer instead of shorter, loL!)

ReplyDeleteI've rediscovered my high school fondness for Maths through the English classes I've been giving to the University Maths and Physics students. We had a whole chapter dedicated to Fibonacci and the golden ration. Interesting!

I'll be interested to hear how you feel about this second book when you're done with it!

These sound great. Of course, every book you mention on here sounds worth reading.

ReplyDeleteI've never been great at math; I really struggled to get through my Calculus classes in high school. Math just never made perfect sense to me, though I know it's logical and always works out the way it's supposed to. Keep us posted on the rest of the book.

Omigosh, those books look absolutely fascinating. You have just given me an idea for my Christmas list, for a certain Phinnaeus. Thank you...!

ReplyDeleteHow very, very interesting!!! I want to run out and get those books!!! So intriguing! Thank you, DJ!! Absolutely wonderful!! Just stopping by to give you my love!! ~Janine XO

ReplyDeleteWhat interesting reviews. I, too, know several people who enjoy mathematics and the beauty of numbers and formulas. The golden ratio is enlightening and how it extends into nature.

ReplyDeleteYou even made numbers interesting to me. The books sound intriging and intimidating. They are bound to keep you busy during the cold nights to come.

ReplyDeleteYou may be the first person to ever make math sound interesting to me!

ReplyDeleteI hear you and I think I'll giv e it some attention. It may be good to stinulate that brain of my a bit to keep the wheels moving.

ReplyDelete