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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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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.

(P) and ©1998 HarperCollins Publishers Inc., All Rights Reserved, Harper Audio, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers

What the Critics Say

  • Audio Publishers Association 1999 Award Winner, Nonfiction, Abridged

"Madness, violence, arcane obsessions, weird learning, ghastly comedy �" (Literary Review)
"An extraordinary tale...a splendid book." (The Economist)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Zentaro Bellevue, WA, USA 11-27-05
    Zentaro Bellevue, WA, USA 11-27-05 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Book"

    This is a great book. It tells the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The story centres around two characters primarily, Minor (the madman) and Murray(the professor).

    It gives bit of a life story of Minor, and tells how he came to be locked up in an asylum. It also gives some information about the history of English dictionaries, and about the process by which the OED was compiled.

    Minor, obviously bored living in isolation, and besides his madness very intelligent, took to indexing and providing quotations of the words in all his books. As the dicitonary team progress through the alphabet, Minor would ask which words they were working on, and look up in his home made rolodex, the book titles and page numbers in his vast collection of books, then copy out the required quotations and send them to the dictionary team for inclusion.

    He is said to have been one of the most prolific contributors. There's nothing particularly exciting in this audio book, but it is a fascinating historical story.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael O'Brien 11-16-06 Member Since 2001
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    "Enjoyed it"

    Overall, I really enjoyed this book. First and foremost, I am glad that I chose the abridged version. While I found the topic interesting (if only for the fact that I never really thought about it before), I don't think that I could have been drawn in as completely and consistently for a longer duration. Whether this stems from the topic itself or the fact that I have been listening to many unabridged works lately and just needed a break, I can't be sure. I can say that the book was well-narrated and kept a lively and interesting pace throughout.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher O Baldwin 03-17-04 Listener Since 2001
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    "The Professor and the Madman"

    Great Book. It was so well crafted; despite it's length relative to it's topic, it held my interest thruout the 'book'. My first listen & my favorite.

    14 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Massachusetts 05-05-11
    Carol Massachusetts 05-05-11 Member Since 2010

    It is true that I know only what I have read in books. But I have read a great many books. ("Venetia" by Georgette Heyer)

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting story well presented"

    Like most Audible readers, I don't normally "go for" abridged books, but in this case I was glad I did, spurred on by the fact that Simon Jones is my all-time favorite narrator.

    This is the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, a feat that spanned more than half a century, and of two distinct personalities who were the driving force and major contributor to the project, respectively. In this is fascinating and extremely well done presentation, the "madman"--an American medical doctor and Civil War veteran who suffered from an extreme form of paranoia and wound up in Broadmoor, the British institution for the criminally insane--is naturally enough the more intense and interesting of the two title characters.

    A third major "character" is the dictionary itself, a vibrant and ever-changing force throughout the English-speaking world and a supreme legacy of all the men described here. I suspect that the OED is the character given short shrift in this abridgment, and that the full version of WInchester's book contains much more detail on lexicography and printing.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gabrielle United States 08-20-11
    Gabrielle United States 08-20-11
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    "Great Listen!"

    This story seemed too unbelievable to be true. Very interesting that this story is a piece of history yet no one has every known it. Great Purchase

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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