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48+ Works 34,930 Members 934 Reviews 123 Favorited

About the Author

Simon Winchester was born in London, England on September 28, 1944. He read geology at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. After graduation in 1966, he joined a Canadian mining company and worked as field geologist in Uganda. The following year he decided to become a journalist. His first reporting show more job was for The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1969, he joined The Guardian and was named Britain's Journalist of the Year in 1971. He also worked for the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times before becoming a freelancer. He is the author of numerous books including In Holy Terror, The River at the Center of the World, The Alice Behind Wonderland, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and.Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to journalism and literature. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Simon Winchester

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (2003) — Narrator, some editions — 3,043 copies, 58 reviews
The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World (2018) — Author & Narrator — 855 copies, 19 reviews
Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles (1988) 338 copies, 14 reviews
The Fracture Zone: My Return to the Balkans (1999) 259 copies, 13 reviews
The Alice Behind Wonderland (2011) 223 copies, 12 reviews
The Best American Travel Writing 2009 (2009) — Editor — 124 copies, 3 reviews
When the Earth Shakes (2015) 77 copies, 3 reviews
Simon Winchester's Calcutta (2004) 70 copies, 1 review
In Holy Terror (1974) 18 copies
Prison Diary, Argentina (1983) 15 copies
The End of the River (2020) 7 copies
Shanghai Winchester (1999) 1 copy

Associated Works

In Other Words (2004) — Foreword, some editions — 411 copies, 12 reviews
The Best American Travel Writing 2001 (2001) — Contributor — 235 copies, 1 review
The Best American Travel Writing 2005 (2005) — Contributor — 210 copies, 1 review
The Kindness of Strangers (2003) — Author — 199 copies, 3 reviews
Weird and Wonderful Words (2002) — Foreword — 161 copies
By the Seat of My Pants (2005) — Contributor — 145 copies, 3 reviews
Granta 73: Necessary Journeys (2001) — Contributor — 140 copies
Original Letters from India (1986) — Introduction, some editions — 127 copies, 3 reviews
Granta 56: What Happened to Us? (1996) — Contributor — 126 copies
Tales from Nowhere (2006) — Contributor — 126 copies, 3 reviews
Worlds to Explore: Classic Tales of Travel and Adventure from National Geographic (2006) — Introduction, some editions — 102 copies, 1 review
The Best American Travel Writing 2010 (2010) — Contributor — 101 copies, 6 reviews
The Dylan Companion: A Collection of Essential Writing About Bob Dylan (1990) — Contributor, some editions — 96 copies
Small World (1995) — Introduction, some editions — 59 copies
What’s Language Got to Do with It? (2005) — Contributor — 51 copies, 2 reviews
Extreme Earth (2003) — Foreword — 17 copies
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Autumn 1994 (1994) — Author "Eternal Argument" and "Two Centuries of the IRA" — 14 copies
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Autumn 1996 (1996) — Author "The Escape of the Amethyst" — 12 copies


19th century (297) American history (192) audiobook (158) biography (1,575) books (171) books about books (317) California (164) cartography (162) China (468) dictionaries (232) dictionary (484) earthquakes (173) England (298) English (229) English language (254) etymology (146) geography (355) geology (1,100) history (4,861) history of science (177) Indonesia (218) Kindle (157) language (873) lexicography (368) linguistics (217) maps (177) mental illness (172) non-fiction (3,788) OED (327) own (157) Oxford English Dictionary (330) read (364) reference (168) San Francisco (192) science (916) to-read (1,906) travel (740) unread (206) volcanoes (350) words (180)

Common Knowledge



The Man Who Loved China group read in 75 Books Challenge for 2014 (December 2014)


A very interesting and enjoyable telling of American history through the stories of pioneers and inventors, most of whom are not well known.
SteveCarl | 24 other reviews | Jun 24, 2024 |
I love Winchester's work, but this book just petered out towards the end. I wasn't a huge fan of how he structured the overall narrative, but I went with it anyway. The last 2-3 chapters, however, just felt meandering and a little confused. Granted the book was written in 2010, but I was still surprised at the skeptical tone he had as we wrote about climate change. Has the science really improved that much in 7 years? I suppose so.
Library_Guard | 57 other reviews | Jun 17, 2024 |
Dr. W. C. Minor, whose story is at the center of Simon Winchester's The Professor and The Madman, is "crazy". From the symptoms that are described in the book, he would most likely today be classified as a paranoid schizophrenic. An intelligent and sophisticated man, he was a surgeon and a member of the Union Army during the Civil War before he moved to the UK and his delusions of being tormented in his sleep led him to fatally shoot an innocent man. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a British asylum for most of the rest of his life. But he didn't stop being an educated man solely by virtue of his condition, and with his endless spare time he got himself involved in a one-of-a-kind project: the Oxford English Dictionary.

Winchester weaves together the tale of Dr. Minor and the history of dictionaries leading up to the creation of the OED. English is a language quite different than many of the other European ones in the way it has grown explosively and liberally borrowed from others, and for quite a long time there was no real attempt to catalog it: a few volumes that sought to define the most unusual words existed, but an actual dictionary of ALL the words with ALL their meanings didn't really happen until the OED. It took decades of work and thousands of volunteers to develop the dictionary, and Minor's contribution thereto was significant indeed...enough to merit a dedication in the finished product even.

Dr. Minor was seriously ill and a criminal at that, but we should know by now that these things do not per se mean that someone is incapable of being a productive member of society. That being said, there is a shock value there: we don't usually think of murderers as the kind of people who wind up knee-deep in dictionary development. Winchester chooses to emphasize Minor's humanity rather than sensationalize his crime, taking us through his life as the son of missionaries in Sri Lanka (there's an odd bit of colonialism where Winchester is weirdly attached to the British name of Ceylon) through the horrors he would have seen as a medical professional in the Civil War and his subsequent mental decline, leading down to his crime and its punishment, and then wrapping up with his long years in institutional care. Even though because of the time in history, that care consisted mostly of a relatively gentle confinement rather than actual treatment, it still should be enough to remind us that there are probably plenty of people in jail or psychiatric hospitals today who do have something to offer the world.

The book itself is solid but not really exceptional in any way. It's an interesting story and well-told, but it wasn't an especially memorable or special read. For non-fiction readers or people interested in dictionary development, it's definitely a good choice, but I don't know that I'd recommend going out of one's way to read it if this sort of thing doesn't usually do it for you.
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ghneumann | 294 other reviews | Jun 14, 2024 |
If ever there were a boring book, The Meaning of Everything is it. This man, Simon Winchester, managed to make the history of English words and of the Oxford English Dictionary things about which you just didn't feel like reading. Etymology is one of my favourite studies, and yet I just wanted the book to end.

It did end. Thank goodness.
ahef1963 | 57 other reviews | May 18, 2024 |



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