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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of…
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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 219 (next | show all)
Great story of the American contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. Dr. Minor was committed to an insane asylum after he murdered a man on his way to work in London. The Dr. had supposedly been driven mad by his upbringing in the Seychelles where nude women made him crazy with sex and the Civil War finished him off by forcing him (as an Army surgeon) to "brand" Irish deserters. In the end, he really does go crazy, but it has a calming effect upon him. Read it and see...
  Kevin.Bokay | Aug 5, 2018 |
Audiobook narrated by the author

The subtitle is all the synopsis you need: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

James Murray is the professor, a learned man who became the editor of the OED. Dr William C Minor is the madman, an American Civil-War veteran and surgeon whose paranoid delusions caused him to commit murder and resulted in his life-long commitment to an asylum for the criminally insane. Yet …

Simon Winchester crafts a compelling non-fiction narrative. I previously read his book on the explosion of Krakatoa, which was interesting, but I felt bogged down in detail. This is a much shorter book. Though it’s clear that Winchester did significant research and he includes details of how the OED was conceived, and the laborious efforts to get volunteers to submit citations to support word usage definitions, he never lost the story arc of these two remarkable men. He captured my attention on page one and held it throughout.

Winchester narrates the audiobook himself and he does a fine job. I could listen to his British accent all day, especially pronouncing the marvelously rich vocabulary he employs. As a bonus, at the end of the audio book there is an interview between Winchester and the OED’s current editor, John Simpson. THAT was equally as interesting to me as the main story. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jul 25, 2018 |
If you love the OED and are interested in the development of this huge etymological project this is the book for you. This is also a well written biography of paranoid schizophrenic Dr. William Minor and lexicographer Dr James Murray. Winchester makes a compelling story out of the two lives by comparing similarities and differences in the background of the two men. Another theme is the "biography" of English language dictionaries and the Oxford English Dictionary in particular. Included are the stories of many interesting and eccentric men. There is no mention of Noah Webster. This book would appeal to someone interested in etymology, 19th century British psychiatry, or Victorian social and cultural history. The Professor and the Madman is a popular history and fascinating story but it doesn't really add much to our understanding of 19th century history or culture in general. ( )
  janw | Jun 21, 2018 |
This book frames the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary by following the lives of two of its most significant contributors: Prof. James Murray and Dr. William C. Minor. As the title of the book would imply, one was a celebrated academic while the other was a clinically-insane murderer. The two couldn't seem more dissimilar; one came from an impoverished background while the other had an affluent upbringing. One was pious in his nature and the other was a known philanderer. Yet both Murray and Minor were united in their pursuit of philology and their contributions to the first OED. It is a fascinating story, which is only enhanced by Simon Winchester's rich use of vocabulary and etymology. The book is peppered with interesting tidbits of historical information. Who knew that the word "serendipity" originated from a fairy tale about three fortunate princes from Serendip (now known as Sri Lanka)? Or that Union deserters in the American Civil War were often branded with a letter "D" on their hip, buttock, or cheek?

Note: There is a film adaptation (starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn as the titular characters) set to be released in 2018. It will be interesting to see how well this book translates to the silver screen. ( )
  hianbai | Jun 5, 2018 |
Summary: The story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary; James Murray, the editor who gave critical leadership to the project; and Dr. W. C. Minor, the paranoid schizophrenic, whose contribution was vital to the project.

W. C. Minor was the scion of a wealthy family. He showed promise as a medical surgeon, served in Union hospitals until he had an experience during the Battle of the Wilderness that changed his life. Forced to brand an Irish deserter, he was never after the same and eventually placed on a pension. He went to London, seeking rest, and to restore his mind but his fears came with him. He lived in a poorer section, in Lambeth and one night chased down a brewery worker, shot and killed him. Found innocent by reason of insanity, he was confined to Broadmoor, an estate-like "lunatic asylum" that provided humane care, though not treatment. Because of his resources, he acquired two rooms in one of the nicer parts of the facility, acquired an extensive library that filled one room while he painted in the other. But he lacked any real purpose, and his demons pursued him.

In 1857, delegates of the Philological Society decided to move forward with a dictionary of the English language. Samuel Johnson's effort of the last century was the only real resource at the time. Two members, Herbert Coleridge and Frederick Furnivall led the effort but it lagged for over twenty years until James Murray was finally put in charge. Murray published a kind of want ad seeking dictionary volunteers who would scour literature for words and quotations using those words to contribute to his dictionary. One of the ads found its way into a book acquired by Dr. Minor. It would give his life a purpose for another couple decades and lead to a most unusual relationship between the two men. Minor, often at request, would scour his books and come up with quotations for words whose definitions Murray and his team were preparing for publication. He sent thousands upon thousands of quotations, meticulously recorded--a lexicographers dream. Eventually Murray would go to meet Minor, and they would walk the grounds of Broadmoor, looking as if they were two "Father Christmases" in their white beards, talking words, keeping for a time, the fears and demons at bay.

Simon Winchester narrates the story of the seventy year process involved in the publication of the full Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as well as the unusual life of one of its most significant contributors. In an understated way, this work also serves as a tribute to Murray, whose leadership brought the work near to completion by the time of his death. One of the most telling things is the dignity with which he treats Minor throughout their relationship. In the case of Minor, not unlike John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, the line between genius and madness is a tenuous one. Both Minor and Nash struggled with forms of schizophrenia before any of the modern drug therapies were developed to deal with this illness. Winchester speculates on whether the work on the dictionary served as a kind of therapy, and whether Minor would have made such a signal contribution otherwise.

Winchester gives us a fascinating story, well-told, of a most unlikely friendship, and scholarly partnership. Murray wrote at one point of Minor:

"So enormous have been Dr. Minor's contributions during the past 17 or 18 years, that we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotes alone."

This story also reminds us that the OED is the work of thousands of volunteers as well as a team of lexicographers, led for many years by James Murray. It continues to be the dictionary without peer when it comes to the English language. Little did I know that a madman played such an important role. ( )
  BobonBooks | Jun 4, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 219 (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 (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winchester, Simonprimary 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.
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.)
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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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