In Julia Keay’s new book, Alexander the Corrector, we are introduced not only to a long-standing controversy — was Alexander Cruden mentally unstable or not? — but also to the power of labeling. In this book, which reads like a detective novel, Keay seeks to rehabilitate Cruden from a host of labels and mistakes.

Who was Cruden? If you have ever used a concordance to the Bible, and the one you used was a real book (compared to the electronic sorts), you probably used either Strong’s or Young’s. Before Strong or Young, there was Cruden. As a solitary individual, working tirelessly in the evenings after he was done as a page-proofer and corrector, Alexander Cruden compiled page after page of detailed notes and catalogued where each word in the Bible appeared. It was a work of love that gave to pastors and Christians something they needed: quick access to where words appear in the Bible. Cruden was the first complete English-language concordance to the Bible.

The question Keay asks is Cruden, who was committed to institutions four times, was he “mad.” She thinks no, and in so detailing her case, she shows just how corrupt and unjust the system of “private madhouses” were. She thinks Cruden’s true calling to be a pastor was ruined by an early injustice. She asks many questions of his life.

But the real question we are confronted with is this one: “How powerful are the labels we use for others?” Her suggestion is that the completely unjust accusation of Cruden by a powerful, pastoral, and theological family in Aberdeen that led to his first institutionalization, and the day he was given the label of “lunatic,” led Cruden himself to live out that label. Cruden’s problem was not his mind but his environment’s stereotyping. We are led to think of all those we have labeled and all those who have labeled us.

A powerful read; full of stories that are too crazy to be true. For those who think non-fiction is stranger than truth and more capacious than fiction, this book will fit the bill. On top of this, sometimes this book will make you laugh aloud.

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