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The Professor and the Madman | [Simon Winchester]

The Professor and the Madman

Part history, part true-crime, and entirely entertaining, listen to the story of how the behemoth Oxford English Dictionary was made. You'll hang on every word as you discover that the dictionary's greatest contributor was also an insane murderer working from the confines of an asylum.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: This is a fascinating cubbyhole of literary history that plays like the best fiction: the most-prolific contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary turns out to be an imprisoned murderer. Listening to Simon Winchester's quirky and endearing narration, I found myself infected by his obvious enthusiasm for the story - and for the detective work it took to uncover it. —Steve Feldberg

Publisher's Summary

Hidden within the rituals of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary is a fascinating mystery. Professor James Murray was the distinguished editor of the OED project. Dr. William Chester Minor, an American surgeon who had served in the Civil War, was one of the most prolific contributors to the dictionary, sending thousands of neat, hand-written quotations from his home. After numerous refusals from Minor to visit his home in Oxford, Murray set out to find him. It was then that Murray would finally learn the truth about Minor - that, in addition to being a masterly wordsmith, he was also an insane murderer locked up in Broadmoor, England's harshest asylum for criminal lunatics. The Professor and the Madman is the unforgettable story of the madness and genius that contributed to one of the greatest literary achievements in the history of English letters.

©1998 Simon Winchester; (P) 1999 HarperCollins Publishers Inc., All Rights Reserved, Harper Audio, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers

What the Critics Say

"The linguistic detective story of the decade." (New York Times Magazine)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (1503 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Lanea Virginia 11-27-12
    Lanea Virginia 11-27-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I had to read this book. I simply had to."

    [{ "id" : 33, "type" : "Overall", "typeString" : "overall", "question" : "What made the experience of listening to The Professor and the Madman the most enjoyable?", "answer" : "I had to read this book. My only disappointment is that I waited so long. I was particularly drawn to the book because of the way the subject matter touches on little things that are vital to me: lexicography and philology, Scotland, England, Virginia, and Washington, DC all twine through the book. It touches on most of the places I’ve lived and the center of my academic background.
    The rest of my review is online }, { "id" : 5, "type" : "Story", "typeString" : "story", "question" : "Who was your favorite character and why?", "answer" : "" }, { "id" : 18, "type" : "Performance", "typeString" : "performance", "question" : "Which character – as performed by Simon Winchester – was your favorite?", "answer" : "" }, { "id" : 70, "type" : "Genre", "typeString" : "genre", "question" : "If you could give The Professor and the Madman a new subtitle, what would it be?", "answer" : "" }, { "id" : -1, "type" : "Misc", "typeString" : "misc", "question" : "Any additional comments?", "answer" : "" } ]

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John NARANGBA, Australia 11-26-12
    John NARANGBA, Australia 11-26-12
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    "A really fascinating read!"
    Would you listen to The Professor and the Madman again? Why?

    Yes as there is too much information to absorb first time through.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    One realises how little we understand the human mind.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Kirkwood, CA, United States 11-05-12
    Carol Kirkwood, CA, United States 11-05-12 Member Since 2007

    us about yourself! I'm a retired English teacher and ardent reader(more because of physical disability than from job).

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    "Madness plus a dicionary--what a fascinating tale"
    Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

    Definitely because it is intriguing.


    What does Simon Winchester bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His accent adds to the setting.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Abcolutely, because it's so intriguing to find such a romantic tale linked to a massive dictionary.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alan San Jacinto, CA, United States 11-03-12
    Alan San Jacinto, CA, United States 11-03-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Crazy good."

    I've been a big OED fan for years and this was a jolly good read. That's a talent, making an interesting story about dictionary writing.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Lee California 10-19-12
    J. Lee California 10-19-12 Member Since 2009

    Husband, father, building contractor, inventor and audio book lover.

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    "An extraordinary story. Fascinating and enjoyable"

    This great little book tells an amazing story about the origins of the most famous dictionary in the world. Need I say it's name? In particular, the account of one of that magnificent tome's more colorful, if not infamous, contributors. One may not think the history of the making of a dictionary is likely to be very interesting, I assure you, it is. Well written and well spoken. I recommend it without reservation.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cheri Amarillo, TX, United States 07-31-12
    Cheri Amarillo, TX, United States 07-31-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Lexicographer's dream story"
    If you could sum up The Professor and the Madman in three words, what would they be?

    detailed historical academic


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Professor and the Madman?

    The sympathetic portrayal of Minor's "doctor on the battlefield" experience that may have contributed to his madness--Didn't know about the Battle of the Wilderness till now.


    Which character – as performed by Simon Winchester – was your favorite?

    James Murray--excellent Scottish brogue


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It was very detailed and I listened as working in my yard. It was very absorbing, but I needed a break every couple of hours.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth Bellevue, WA, United States 06-29-12
    Elizabeth Bellevue, WA, United States 06-29-12 Member Since 2007

    A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!

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    "Interesting and curious"

    Simon Winchester does an admirable job of telling the curious story of the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary and the major player who, it turns out, was crazy. Literally. Killed a man and then lived in a psych hospital. The story was interesting, but not quite intriguing, and while I'm glad to improve my trivia knowledge of the OED, this isn't a book worth running out to buy, but if it comes your way or it sounds interesting to you, then go right ahead. You most likely won't regret it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christy M Michigan 06-11-12
    Christy M Michigan 06-11-12 Member Since 2009

    Christy M.

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    "Boring."

    I read this few years ago and got through it, but couldn't make it this time. Impossibly boring!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth dunbar, wv, United States 05-31-12
    Elizabeth dunbar, wv, United States 05-31-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Fascinating story... lightly embellished?"

    This book is difficult to enjoy as straight nonfiction if you are a stickler for detail and citation. There is a good bit of content that seems impossible for the author to know, and he doesn't bother to provide sources for most of it ( so far as I can tell). The small moments and emotions that are suspect are likely added to make the story more compelling and real (if not verifiably factual). I assumed that I missed the footnotes because I listened rather than reading, but when I went looking for more information found many who read the book missed them as well.

    I wouldn't label this book as historical fiction, however. If you are willing to overlook inferences and educated guesses, you will enjoy the complexity of character it allows. I enjoyed this book, and think it provided an interesting history more in line with oral history, which fit the story and audio format nicely. As much as I love footnotes, sometimes history is about truth rather than fact.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth A. 05-04-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Surprisingly Captivating"
    Where does The Professor and the Madman rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    The Professor and the Madman ranks in the top 3 - it was phenomenal! I listen to a lot of audiobooks and this very quickly became one of my favorites. I highly recommend it!


    What does Simon Winchester bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His voice is captivating and his passion for his subject is evident. His knowledge of this long and intricate tale imbues his narration with confidence. I could listen to him forever.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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