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THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE: A TALE OF MURDER,…
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THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE: A TALE OF MURDER, MADNESS AND THE LOVE OF… (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Simon. Winchester

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8,825210341 (3.8)357
Member:bigship
Title:THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE: A TALE OF MURDER, MADNESS AND THE LOVE OF WORDS.
Authors:Simon. Winchester
Info:Viking (1998), Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:bio, read 1998

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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 203 (next | show all)
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 |
This was the April book for our Library Book Club. Wow! This was a very well written book. I found it to be very interesting and informative. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary took place before many mental illnesses were officially diagnosed. I found it very interesting that one of the main contributors was a Civil War veteran, Dr. W. C. Minor, a medical doctor who had committed murder and was an inmate at an English asylum for the criminally insane. Today he would probably be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and treated with medication. Dr. Minor’s story is tragic but it is amazing that he was able to turn his madness into brilliance in his contribution to the Oxford English Dictionary. He answered the call when Professor Murray sent out requests for contributors to read several books and contribute page number references to words found in recommended books that should be added to the dictionary. This was a huge undertaking. He loved to read and both he and Professor James Murray were obsessed with creating the Oxford English Dictionary. This is an amazing dictionary and I have used the online version often in my work as a quality assurance coordinator. This is an amazing story and well worth the read. ( )
  iadam | Apr 10, 2017 |
Some history of dictionary-making; the circumstances of Dr. William Minor's involvement, while he was an inmate of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, in researching and contributing to the vast undertaking that became the Oxford English Dictionary; and the details of Minor's particular form of paranoia and dementia make up the substance of this book. Although I found it interesting enough, I was not as impressed with the book overall as some of the warblers around here. First, it was slightly repetitive, and even though it is short at under 250 pages, it is longer than it needs to be. There’s too little butter spread over too much bread. My biggest quibble, however, is that I noticed instances of what I consider sloppiness--one glaring historical error, a long sentence featuring three (3!) separate pronouns with unclear antecedents, and a bad choice of a word (in a book about dictionaries!) intended to make a distinction. In relating that Dr. Minor was posted to Governor’s Island, New York, in 1866, dealing with the cholera epidemic, Winchester notes that this illness was blamed on “Irish immigrants who were then pouring in through Ellis Island”. While he is correct that it was believed immigrants brought the disease to America, they were not entering New York through Ellis Island in 1866. The famous processing center there opened some 25 years later, and was in fact designed to identify and isolate any immigrants who might be carrying an infectious disease. No historian should have made this mistake; no publisher should have allowed it to pass through its fact-checking and editing process. As for the faulty word choice, in describing the professor and the madman, Winchester notes that they looked a good deal like one another, but that “Doctor Minor’s nose looks a little hooked, Doctor Murray’s finer and more aquiline (emphasis mine). My Pocket Oxford English Dictionary defines aquiline as “(of a nose) hooked or curved like an eagle’s beak”. So he seems to be saying the noses are different from one another by both being hooked. Again, I find this to be a fairly astonishing bit of carelessness in a book about two men mutually obsessed with the precise meanings of words. I won’t reproduce the bewildering sentence with its multiple “he’s” and “they’s”. Nevertheless, I am glad I read The Professor and the Madman, and I remain in awe of the accomplishment of the many dedicated individuals who created the magnificent OED. ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Feb 11, 2017 |
Interesting and full of trivia about the Oxford English Dictionary. It was also a bit of a mind twist to find out that Shakespeare and his contemporaries were writing without the use of a dictionary until "The First English Dictionary 1604: Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall" was published, and even that was pretty slim and they probably didn't even have access to it.

The titular madman William Chester Minor (pictured on the cover of most editions) was an ex-Union army surgeon suffering from what we would now likely call PTSD and paranoiac schizophrenia. During the course of his incarceration in England for a murder, he contributed some tens of thousands of usage quotations to Oxford thanks to a volunteer call-out that had been made to readers by the editors who were compiling the dictionary. Eventually he was tracked down by the editor James Murray and a friendship ensued until Minor was eventually transferred to an asylum in America. ( )
  alanteder | Feb 6, 2017 |
Human interest background to the story of the creation of the OED. The editors relied upon an army of volunteer readers to identify words and illustrative quotations. One of the most critical of these, Dr. Minor, had his own story.

Best read after familiarity with the general background of the seventy year editorial challenged to the OED's production, such as that found in this author's later The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. ( )
  dono421846 | Feb 4, 2017 |
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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
Simon Winchesterprimary authorall editionscalculated
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.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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