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The Professor and the Madman by Simon…

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

by Simon Winchester

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8,397195369 (3.8)328
Title:The Professor and the Madman
Authors:Simon Winchester
Info:Harper (1998), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 256 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 by Simon Winchester (1998)


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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
288 pages

★★★ ½

The compilation of the OED began in 1857; it was an ambitious project that would take 70 years to complete. Within that time, one contributor would put in thousands of hours and words – with time it would be learned that this contributor, William Minor was an intelligent doctor…who was also locked up in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. This book follows the life of the doctor, the professor who was editor of the OED at the time and the making of the huge dictionary.

I will start off by saying I loved the subject of this book. I like any book that can take a little known, or forgotten, part of history and bring it back into light but the question is can the author pull those subjects off? In this case, I will say that Simon Winchester pulled off a well written, interesting book. With that being said, I am not particularly a fan of the author. I have read a few of his books and this is the first I came across that was interesting enough and written well enough not to put me into snoozefest as soon as I open the book. Also, the author rarely references his studies and that irritates me so much, if I don’t know where you got your sources, I have trouble believing the context (if I didn’t reference my material in college, it was an automatic F!). And I question any historian who can pull off a book every year or two – researching and writing these books is a loooong process if done correctly, even if you have minion running around to help with research.

So my final thought on the book? Fascinating subject and I will say actually worth the read if you are into history or biographies; however the author’s lack of references and need to just become a “popular” history writer leaves a poor taste in my mouth and caused me to easily knock a star off my rating.
( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
The pretext for this book is rather slight – one of the significant volunteer contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary was, although an intelligent and educated man, also an inmate of an insane asylum, confined for a murder committed while in the throes of a schizophrenic paranoid delusion.
While, as a revelation, this fact may be less than earth-shattering, Winchester uses this story of the inmate, Dr. W.C. Minor, the man he killed, George Merrett, and the main editor of the OED, Dr. James Murray, as a vehicle for all kinds of interesting details – he goes on quite a number of tangents, but they're always immensely well-written and fascinating! Winchester isn't afraid to stray from dry, historical writing – he definitely makes guesses, fleshes things out for colorful effect – but his research is also obviously thoroughly done, and he also stops short of fictifying (ok, that's not a word, but I think it should be) his topic – it's always made clear when his scenarios are theoretical.
I'd highly recommend this book not only for those interested in dictionaries and lexicography, but for anyone interested in Victorian England, the Civil War, treatment of the mentally ill, or any of a number of other topics. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
A great story, and of particular interest to anyone who loves the English language! ( )
  BooksForDinner | Feb 1, 2016 |
This book was excellently written. It kept me interested from the beginning to the end. I had no idea how recently the Oxford English Dictionary came into being. We read today and if there is a word we do not understand, we pick up the dictionary to look it up. It was interesting to know that Shakespeare did not have this luxury.

The characters in the book evolve nicely. The book left me wondering what the life of W.C. Minor was really like. How is it that he contributed so much to the Oxford English Dictionary from an insane asylum. I was left wondering what the emotions must have been as Sir James Murray realized that he was dealing with a madman in the creation of the dictionary, yet W.C. Minor's submissions to the dictionary were near perfection. Other volunteers that contributed were not as precise.

This book will entertain you in the history of how the Oxford English Dictionary was created. Who was involved? How long did it really take? What methods did they use to document all those words? Does it continue today? It was a fascinating read!

In line with the story of creating the dictionary, there were several words that were challenging and needed to be looked up for their precise meaning for the story. I don't see this as a negative but it did remind me of my limited vernacular. I hope that whomever reads this tome will find it as interesting as I did. It taught me that even something as minor in every day life, something we usually do not give much thought to, such as the dictionary, really shouldn't be taken for granted. ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
Fascinating book about a book that has shaped our world. Makes you appreciate how much our language shapes our reality. And how much work went into making it as good as it became (a standard). ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
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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)

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Winchesterprimary 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:a tale of murder, madness and the Oxford English dictionary

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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