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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of…

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making… (original 1998; edition 2005)

by Simon Winchester

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Title:The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.)
Authors:Simon Winchester
Info:Harper Perennial (2005), Edition: P.S., Paperback, 242 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.) by Simon Winchester (Author) (1998)

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In 1858, a group of Oxford lexicographers under the direction of Dr. James Murray conceived the daunting task of compiling the comprehensive collection of the English language. The task culminated seventy years later when it was published in a twelve-volume set. Since this undertaking required the perusal of existing English literature, how a word developed over time, and examples of its use, hundreds of volunteers were needed. As is the case in many charitable efforts, volunteers came and went.

However, one individual, Dr. William Minor, an American army surgeon, was so fascinated with the project that he stuck with it for 20+ years. Little was known about the man that contributed so much that Dr. Murray decided to meet him at his current address at Broadmoor Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane in northern England. Assuming that he was a staff physician, he was surprised to learn that the individual who had been so helpful over the years, had been incarcerated there after murdering a man when Dr. Minor was in a paranoid and delusional state.

The history behind the creation of the OED and the friendship between Drs. Murray and Minor was so engaging that the nonfiction account read more like a novel and less like a history textbook. If you are a bibliophile or a etymologist, you will enjoy reading this book by Simon Winchester, a prolific and talented writer of several historical events. ( )
  John_Warner | Dec 28, 2018 |
Until I picked it up at a used book sale, I hadn’t realized that Simon Winchester’s "The Professor and the Madman" was published 20 years ago, in 1998, but it generally holds up well. The book tells the story of Doctor W. C. Minor, an American physician who assisted in the compilation of what became the Oxford English Dictionary, despite the fact that he was locked up in a “lunatic asylum” as a hopelessly insane murderer. Of course, being insane (in this case, schizophrenic) doesn’t preclude an individual being highly intelligent and capable in one’s lucid periods, but Dr. Minor’s circumstances were considered quite unusual in the 19th Century. My basic quibble with this book is the lack of footnotes and bibliography, which in my view should always be an integral part of a non-fiction recounting of historical events; otherwise, this is quite an entertaining read. ( )
  thefirstalicat | Dec 11, 2018 |
An interesting insight to the development of the Oxford English Dictionary via one of its key contributors - an insane American military doctor. A fascinating story well told. ( )
  thejohnsmith | Nov 20, 2018 |
Great story of the American contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. Dr. Minor was committed to an insane asylum after he murdered a man on his way to work in London. The Dr. had supposedly been driven mad by his upbringing in the Seychelles where nude women made him crazy with sex and the Civil War finished him off by forcing him (as an Army surgeon) to "brand" Irish deserters. In the end, he really does go crazy, but it has a calming effect upon him. Read it and see...
  Kevin.Bokay | Aug 5, 2018 |
Audiobook narrated by the author

The subtitle is all the synopsis you need: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

James Murray is the professor, a learned man who became the editor of the OED. Dr William C Minor is the madman, an American Civil-War veteran and surgeon whose paranoid delusions caused him to commit murder and resulted in his life-long commitment to an asylum for the criminally insane. Yet …

Simon Winchester crafts a compelling non-fiction narrative. I previously read his book on the explosion of Krakatoa, which was interesting, but I felt bogged down in detail. This is a much shorter book. Though it’s clear that Winchester did significant research and he includes details of how the OED was conceived, and the laborious efforts to get volunteers to submit citations to support word usage definitions, he never lost the story arc of these two remarkable men. He captured my attention on page one and held it throughout.

Winchester narrates the audiobook himself and he does a fine job. I could listen to his British accent all day, especially pronouncing the marvelously rich vocabulary he employs. As a bonus, at the end of the audio book there is an interview between Winchester and the OED’s current editor, John Simpson. THAT was equally as interesting to me as the main story. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jul 25, 2018 |
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Here, as so consistently throughout, Winchester finds exactly the right tool to frame the scene.
added by John_Vaughan | editPowells, Dave Weich (Oct 1, 2001)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winchester, SimonAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pracher, RickCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Popular myth has it that one of the most remarkable conversations in modern literary history took place on a cool and misty late autumn in 1896, in the small village of Crowthorne in the county of Berkshire.
One word --and only one word-- was ever actually lost: bondmaid, which appears in Johnson's dictionary, was actually lost by Murray and was found, a stray without a home, long after the fascicle Battentlie - Bozzom had been published. It, and tens of thousands of words that had evolved or appeared during the forty-four years spent assembling the fascicles and their [twelve] parent volumes, appeared in a supplement, which came out in 1933. Four further supplements appeared between 1972 and 1986. In 1989, using the new abilities of the computer, Oxford University Press issued its fully integrated second edition, incorporating all the changes and additions of the supplements in twenty rather more slender volumes. [220]
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UK title: The Surgeon of Crowthorne
US title: The Professor and the Madman
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A wonderful story...It has all the ingredients of one of Patrick McGrath's icily stylish novels: madness, violence, arcane obsessions, weird learning, ghastly comedy - John Banville, Literary Review

Two distinguished-looking Victorians, both learned and serious, yet from very different worlds: one a brilliant polymath, the other a madman and a murderer.

Dr James Murray, erudite and pious, who broke free from an impoverished childhood to become a towering figure of British scholarship and editor of the great Oxford English Dictionary.

Dr W.C. Minor, lascivious, charismatic, a millionaire American Civil War surgeon and homicidal lunatic. Confined to Broadmoor Asylum he pursued his passion for words and became one of the OED's most valued contributors.

Their lives and unlikely friendship are unravelled in Simon Winchester's classic work of detection.

In this elegant book the writer has created a vivid parable, in the spirit of Nabakov and Borges - full of suspense, pathos and humour - Wall Street Journal

A jewel of a book, scholarly, beguiling and moving - as gripping as any thriller - Scotland on Sunday

A cracking read - Spectator
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060839783, Paperback)

The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary, 70 years in the making, was an intellectually heroic feat with a twist worthy of the greatest mystery fiction: one of its most valuable contributors was a criminally insane American physician, locked up in an English asylum for murder. British stage actor Simon Jones leads us through this uncommon meeting of minds (the other belonging to self-educated dictionary editor James Murray) at full gallop. Ultimately, it's hard to say which is more remarkable: the facts of this amazingly well-researched story, or the sound of author Simon Winchester's erudite prose. Jones's reading smoothly transports listeners to the 19th century, reminding us why so many brilliant people obsessively set out to catalogue the English language. This unabridged version contains an interview between Winchester and John Simpson, editor of the Oxford dictionary. (Running time: 6.5 hours, 6 cassettes) --Lou Schuler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:04 -0400)

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Looks at the making of the Oxford English dictionary.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140271287, 0141037717

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