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The Professor and the Madman Paperback – 13 Oct 1999


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Paperback, 13 Oct 1999
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (13 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006099486X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060994860
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 139,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied Geology at Oxford University. He is the author of 'Atlantic','A Crack in the Edge of the World', 'Krakatoa', 'The Map That Changed the World', 'The Professor and the Madman', 'The Fracture Zone', 'Outposts', 'Korea', among many other titles. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Product Description

Synopsis

The shocking story of the single greatest contributor to the first Oxford English Dictionary in 1857 reveals that the man who contributed 10,000 definitions to the book was in fact a patient in an asylum for the criminally insane. Reprint. 100,000 first printing. Tour. NYT.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Sep 1998
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book while in London recently under its British title THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE. Apparently for American readers, the publishers felt it necessary to "tart up" the title to THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN. Regardless, Simon Winchester's story between the covers is splendidly told, without sensationalising even the most horrific details, revealed matter of factly well into the book. The story is that of Dr. Minor - an American Civil War surgeon - who went mad amid the horrors of "The Wilderness." Pursued by his nightly demons, he later wound up in grim South London where he shot dead a totally innocent man. Sent to Broadmoor - a sprawling lunatic asylum near London - he became one of the most valuable contributors to the compilation of the magisterial Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester recounts - correcting but not spoiling a wonderful story - the meeting between the OED's legendary James Murray and his reclusive contributor. While ultimately Dr Minor's story is a tragic one - not the least for his hapless victim - it is also a tribute to the persistence of the human mind. Cleverly presented with appropriate OED citings, this book is not to be missed for anyone interested in words. If you'll excuse the expression, this is the "definitive" work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 15 Aug 2005
Format: Paperback
If Mark Twain had produced this story we would be smiling at the bizarre characterization and twisted plot. A deranged killer, comfortably incarcerated as he participates in an immense intellectual endeavour. That Winchester's tale is valid history instead invokes sadness and consternation. What bends a man's mind past the breaking point? Is a single event sufficient cause, or does it require a sequence of circumstances? If broken, must we believe that mind of no further use? Winchester's history of William Minor not only is a superb read, it shows that only extraordinary circumstances can overcome the condition of the mentally disturbed. Minor, through a fluke, restored meaning to his incarceration through his contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester has performed a noteworthy service in this uncanny work. His long-standing journalist's skills are given full rein as he canters through Minor's life in Asia, the American War Between the States and the long years in Britain's Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
Winchester feeds us tidbits of Minor's life as the story progresses. Born in what is now Sri Lanka, Minor's early life is almost a tale of fantasy in its own right. Winchester attributes the tropical lifestyle to sowing the seeds of Minor's later madness. The seed flourished during the American Civil War, heavily fertilized with the blood of soldiers fallen during the Wilderness Campaign in Virginia. According to Winchester, the branding of an AWOL Irish soldier led to the madness bearing its fruit in the mistaken murder of a passerby in London. The mindless killing led to his incarceration in Broadmoor. While there, he became one of the principal contributors to the building of the O.E.D.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Sep 1998
Format: Hardcover
Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary is a charming and fascinating sidebar to one of the great works of scholarship in history. The Oxford English Dictionary took over 70 years to produce its first edition, and remains the definitive text on the historical development of the English language. It could not have been published without the unpaid efforts of over 800 dedicated volunteers - including Dr. William Minor, an American Army surgeon, incarcerated for almost 40 years in an English insane asylum for murdering a London brewery worker during an attack of a delusional paranoia that afflicted him his entire life.
The Professor and the Madman focuses on Minor's contribution to the work of Sir James Murray, the Scots genius who was the OED's first and greatest editor. Minor, when he wasn't being delusional, was a brilliant, assiduous reader, devoted to the English language and delighted to be part of the enormous project.
Winchester's book is a very quick read, and a delightful one. There are better books on Murray and the OED; but The Professor and the Madman gives a unique human insight into the enterprise, and the love of a language that inspired two such disparate individuals.
Anyone who loves to read and write will rightfully revere the OED and what it represents; also the enormous labors that went into its compilation. The Professor and the Madman is but a footnote to the history of that effort; but it is a lovely little footnote.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Jan 2003
Format: Paperback
Featuring a storyline seemingly made for Hollywood, this intriguing exposition of, as the subtitle says, murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, is one of those rare tales that literally grabs the reader and forces its words down his throat with a most pleasurable force. I am ashamed to admit that I, a self-described scholar, had no idea of the unfathomable knowledge incorporated into the acclaimed Oxford English Dictionary nor the sheer effort involved in its creation. My admiration for James Murray, the principal editor, and everyone else involved with a bibliographic achievement akin to the building of the Great Pyramid, is unbounded. The story of the seventy-year project to write the greatest dictionary of the English language is fantastic by itself. When the story of the dictionary's most ardent and mysterious contributor is added to the mix, the story becomes almost unbelievable.
William Chester Minor, an American doctor, became perhaps the most helpful contributor to the editors of the burgeoning Oxford English Dictionary. Employing a unique, thorough method in his indefatigable efforts, he won the great admiration and affinity of Murray and became intricately involved with the project. Murray envisioned this man as a medical man of means, surrounded by shelves of books from which he drew his information and nursed his affinity for lexicographical efforts. Dr. Minor, as it turns out, was a man of leisure, possessed of a significant library of books, and intellectually gifted. He was also a certifiably insane murderer. Locked inside an insane asylum, he had nothing but time on his hands, and he used twenty years of that time to send thousands and thousands of references to Dr. Murray's editorial staff. In some ways, Dr.
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