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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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8,763210346 (3.8)353
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 (P.S.) by Simon Winchester (1998)


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Showing 1-5 of 202 (next | show all)
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 |
THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN reads like a chilling psychological murder mystery, yet it fully illuminates the early history of the OED and its legions of volunteers.

Comparing the cover photographs on this book and Winchester's followup, THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING, is like a Who's Who puzzle.

Many will not agree that we should be "glad" that a man was so incredibly "mad." ( )
  m.belljackson | Feb 1, 2017 |
rabck from ReallyBookish, TLC book club read, alas not wonderful as touted. The story jumps a bit, trying to provide equal focus on the US Army surgeon, who's delusions caused him to commit murder and be commited to an asylum in the UK, from where he wrote thousands of entries for the OED. And the Professor James Murray, who winds up coordinating the task of the thousands involved in submitting definitions, quotations, pronunciations, etc that are making up this dictionary. ( )
  nancynova | Jan 1, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 202 (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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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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