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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of…

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making… (1998)

by Simon Winchester

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
I am glad I read this. A unique view of the writing of the OED and the strange intertwining of human lives with history. ( )
  yhgail | Feb 20, 2019 |
I loved this book. It is one of the last one suggested by my mother before she died. It is a true story and has a great deal of interesting history. The oddities of true stories defy expectations, especially when quirky mental health is involved with something as somber, meticulous and precise as the Oxford English Dictionary. This was an engaging book with a great flow and fascinating story. ( )
1 vote DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
In 1858, a group of Oxford lexicographers under the direction of Dr. James Murray conceived the daunting task of compiling the comprehensive collection of the English language. The task culminated seventy years later when it was published in a twelve-volume set. Since this undertaking required the perusal of existing English literature, how a word developed over time, and examples of its use, hundreds of volunteers were needed. As is the case in many charitable efforts, volunteers came and went.

However, one individual, Dr. William Minor, an American army surgeon, was so fascinated with the project that he stuck with it for 20+ years. Little was known about the man that contributed so much that Dr. Murray decided to meet him at his current address at Broadmoor Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane in northern England. Assuming that he was a staff physician, he was surprised to learn that the individual who had been so helpful over the years, had been incarcerated there after murdering a man when Dr. Minor was in a paranoid and delusional state.

The history behind the creation of the OED and the friendship between Drs. Murray and Minor was so engaging that the nonfiction account read more like a novel and less like a history textbook. If you are a bibliophile or a etymologist, you will enjoy reading this book by Simon Winchester, a prolific and talented writer of several historical events. ( )
1 vote John_Warner | Dec 28, 2018 |
Until I picked it up at a used book sale, I hadn’t realized that Simon Winchester’s "The Professor and the Madman" was published 20 years ago, in 1998, but it generally holds up well. The book tells the story of Doctor W. C. Minor, an American physician who assisted in the compilation of what became the Oxford English Dictionary, despite the fact that he was locked up in a “lunatic asylum” as a hopelessly insane murderer. Of course, being insane (in this case, schizophrenic) doesn’t preclude an individual being highly intelligent and capable in one’s lucid periods, but Dr. Minor’s circumstances were considered quite unusual in the 19th Century. My basic quibble with this book is the lack of footnotes and bibliography, which in my view should always be an integral part of a non-fiction recounting of historical events; otherwise, this is quite an entertaining read. ( )
  thefirstalicat | Dec 11, 2018 |
An interesting insight to the development of the Oxford English Dictionary via one of its key contributors - an insane American military doctor. A fascinating story well told. ( )
  thejohnsmith | Nov 20, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 223 (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)

» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winchester, Simonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hood, PhilipIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Out, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pracher, RickCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
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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