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The Professor and the Madman (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Simon Winchester

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7,941180411 (3.8)291
Member:cnpofohio
Title:The Professor and the Madman
Authors:Simon Winchester
Info:Harper (1998), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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Work details

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

Recently added byrandcraw, rwilliab, chrirob, plainy, Pamelar5284, private library, parhamj, CynthiaRD, JustNic
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My second read of this (first time in paperback), and it was just as interesting as I remembered. A tortured mind, Minor, the "Surgeon of Crowthorne" (in the American version he is the Madman of the title) was an American officer who committed murder in London, and who spent his time in an asylum researching and writing entries for the Oxford English Dictionary being compiled by Morris, the professor of the American title. Written in an easy, readable style, this edition is illustrated with photographs and some of Minor's watercolours. It also has interesting endpapers showing Minor's notes in his tiny, precise handwriting. ( )
  overthemoon | Nov 20, 2014 |
A quick and easy read. Each chapter begins with an aposite definition. More about the making of the OED than I ever knew before. Sometimes the writing seems careless; occasionally funny. The crowd-sourcing part was neat, rendering it an early cousin to the open-source movement. ( )
  themulhern | Oct 26, 2014 |
This nonfiction book tackles the concurrent stories of Sir James Murray, the longtime editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and Dr. William Minor, a frequent contributor to the dictionary, who also happened to murder a man in cold blood when suffering from a delusional state. While exploring the friendship between these two men, the book also touches upon etymology (of course) and the history of dictionaries in the English language, the American Civil War and the cruelties seen there, and the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

This book certainly talked about a number of interesting things, and I appreciated how so much context was given to surround the meeting of these two great linguistic minds. For instance, a fascinating subject was the history of dictionaries: how for centuries people didn't have a reference source for looking up the meaning of any given word and how dictionaries started to slowly come in to being much later. The monumental task of the compiling and writing of the OED was even more apparent after this discussion. In addition, there were tons of other compelling factoids scattered here and there, including everything from the crime statistics in the Lamberth district of London while Minor was living there to information about the modern modes of treating Minor's mental illness (he essentially had undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia).

However, where the book suffered was in presentation of all this information. The specific writing style in terms of sentence structure, etc. was certainly fine and, being a word nerd (like I assume many of this book's audience to be!), I enjoyed how each chapter began by defining a key word in it using the OED entry. But the issue was the chronology -- Winchester did not choose to offer the information up in a strictly chronological order. It made for a messy read in which Winchester seemed to be building up to a big reveal in one chapter, except that the reveal had been already told in a previous one, or in which key information showed up much later than would have been helpful. In addition, I personally would have liked just a little bit more time spent discussing the men's early lives rather than the super quick overviews given.

Overall though, I enjoyed this book and appreciated reading about some lesser known historical figures whose contributions were nonetheless plenty noteworthy. The book reads rather quickly and is full of interesting information as well as some suppositions from Winchester regarding things like motivations. I would recommend it for fans of words and literature as well as history buffs. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Oct 12, 2014 |
In many ways, this is a great read simply because it's an entertaining book full of strange and interesting tidbits of knowledge. The problem is just as clear, though--there are so many interesting stories and directions which the book is pulled in, that in the end, none of them are given the depth a reader really wants. Whether you're most interested in the creation of the OED or the friendship between the two men at the heart of the book's title, or even trivia surrounding both, the book explores so much territory, and is so short, that I doubt any reader will be fully satisfied. Still, it is a fun and fast read with plenty of interesting trivia, if not the depth or full story that the book's title and blurb seem to promise.

All together, I'm glad I read it, but I wish it had been a bit more substantial. ( )
1 vote whitewavedarling | Oct 8, 2014 |
this is the kind of story that you would never believe is true if it weren't written by such a master as Simon Winchester. A great read. ( )
1 vote KRoan | Jul 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 173 (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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Dedication
To the memory of
G. M.
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.
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.)
Disambiguation notice
UK title: The Surgeon of Crowthorne:a tale of murder, madness and the Oxford English dictionary

US title: The Professor and the Madman
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Book description
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
Haiku summary

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:55 -0400)

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Looks at the making of the Oxford English dictionary.

(summary from another edition)

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Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140271287, 0141037717

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