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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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8,966213334 (3.8)360
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), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, printbooks
Tags:unowned, read

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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 (1998)


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Showing 1-5 of 206 (next | show all)
This account of the making of the first Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was far more interesting than the subject matter would lead you to believe. Before reading this book I had never contemplated how one would go about compiling a dictionary. Now I know, at least in the case of the OED. There were hundreds of people around England who scoured books and other writings for the first use of a particular word. The chief contributor though was an American, Dr. W. C. Minor, who was confined to an insane asylum because he had killed someone in England. Minor corresponded with Dr. J.A.H. Murray who was in charge of the huge dictionary project and Murray realized that the madman could be put to use which would give him some occupation that might alleviate his insane impulses. This did not entirely work because in 1902, under the delusion he was being forced to have sexual congress with children, he cut off his own penis. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 28, 2017 |
The first few chapters of this book are unfortunately pitched to make the reader think it is going to be another of those contrived and rather silly stories, TV documentary style, that try to build up an odd combination of circumstances into something far more sensational than it deserves. But once you actually get into the book, it becomes clear that Winchester has done quite a bit of original research to separate the real story of the unfortunate Dr Minor from the journalistic myth, and he gives us a fascinating and sympathetic account of Minor's life and the way late-19th century England dealt with his mental health problems.
I'm addicted to the OED, of course (as Winchester obviously is too), and I was a bit disappointed that the making of the dictionary rather got pushed into the background of the story. But that's well-documented elsewhere, so there's no real need for it to come in here in detail. ( )
  thorold | Aug 28, 2017 |
Wonderful book. Winchester has an engaging style that brings the history of two word lovers to life. This is an amazing, personal story about a book that changed the way e understand language. Brilliant ( )
  shadowdancer | Jun 22, 2017 |
Quick and entertaining read! Great to listen to on a car ride. ( )
  mariacfox | Jun 19, 2017 |
This book is simply wonderful. I chose this book to share with my fellow grad students because it is easily the best book I have read all semester, but it has taken me a while to write a review because I'm not quite sure how to CONCISELY gush about this book.

Winchester captures the reader's interest from the start with the tale of George Merret's death; the first chapter reads like a detective story with the ultimate culprit being none other than our protagonist Dr. Minor. Yet despite the inherent intrigue in this "tale of murder [and] insanity," Simon Winchester never reduces the story to sensationalism. Every inch of this book is thoroughly researched and rooted in fact. Though the book egregiously lacks a bibliography, Winchester is upfront in his writing, citing specific reports from the Scotland Yard as well as quoting primary sources such as the South London Press, to explain where his facts are coming from. His acknowledgement section in the back of the book details his research and names the research and correspondence of several professors, both American and British, as the body of his work. Why Mr. Winchester does not include a bibliography I cannot fathom, but his ethos convinces me of the book's legitimacy regardless.

What's more impressive than Winchester's attention to detail (he spends several pages explaining the history of the word 'protagonist' as determined by the OED to justify his use of the plural 'protagonists') is his style. Nonpartisan he is not. His sly social commentary provides an entertaining freshness to some of the duller parts of history without crossing the line into bias: English journalists don't write, they "sniff;" academia's dismissal of Professor Murray's brilliance "beggars the mind" yet of course they were "The Men Who Counted."

To complement Winchester's gripping style are beautiful endpapers and a glossary the OED would be proud of (from cacoethes to philogyny), save for the fact that it is not in alphabetical order. Though I'm not sure what the publishers were thinking when it came to the appendices of the book, the narrative structure and detailed recounting of etymology drew me in. If you are at all interested in history or language, this is a must-read. ( )
1 vote akerner1 | May 8, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 206 (next | show all)
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
Simon Winchesterprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pracher, RickCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
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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