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

Critic Reviews

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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Performance

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Overall
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  • Story

This was a fascinating reading.

Don't let the word "dictionary" fool you. There was nothing boring about this terrifically researched book!

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Quite a surprise

I don't know why I bought this and I almost gave up in the third chapter. I'm glad I didn't. There are so many dimensions to the book: lexicography, of course, but also mental health, criminology and many broader social issues. I'm glad, too, that I got the Audible edition. The Reader makes the story much better.

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Simon Winchester is a delight to read and hear!

What made the experience of listening to The Professor and the Madman the most enjoyable?

I loved Simon Winchester's sense of humor, which really came through in his narration of his book.

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

The "edge of my seat," I'm not sure. It is, after all, not a spy novel, but a story about two scholars (one committed to an asylum) working on the Oxford English Dictionary. However, the story is a very fascinating one. Simon Winchester is a masterful storyteller.

Which scene was your favorite?

Definitely the storytelling about how James Murray got to know about William Minor's condition (not the myth, but the reality), and how they became good friends...sort of the OED odd couple.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I had no extreme reactions to this book, but others might because of some of the details involving the quite insane Dr. Minor. For me, it was a pleasurable read...with a few weird moments.

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Not as good as a novel but interesting material

Would you recommend The Professor and the Madman to your friends? Why or why not?

I'd be more inclined to tell my friends about the book than actually recommend that they read it too.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Simon Winchester?

This author narrates his own work better than most.

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Both Interesting and Entertaining

This book follows the lives of two men influential in the preparation of the Oxford English Dictionary: Dr. W. C. Minor and Professor James Murray. Dr. Minor, convicted of murder and sentenced to a life long stay in an institution for the criminally insane, became a volunteer for Professor Murray as Murray oversaw the creation of the OED. Winchester tells the life stories of both men, a brief history of lexicography, and an also brief account of the making of the OED. This is a fascinating tale, highly readable and generally entertaining.

Winchester reads the book himself, and while not a particularly lively reader, does a solid job.

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  • heART
  • seneca sc
  • 06-06-17

unusual and quite interesting

What did you love best about The Professor and the Madman?

the madman's evolution

Who was your favorite character and why?

the madman because one could feel with him

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

this book didn't require adopting dialects or accents etc.

If you could give The Professor and the Madman a new subtitle, what would it be?

What war does to good people

Any additional comments?

at times dry, but not overly so

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Fact is stranger than fiction

Any additional comments?

I first listened to this book on cassette (library's copy) about a dozen years ago. I liked it so much, that a couple of years later when I came across the paper version in a book store, I bought it. Then it went on sale at Audible and I bought it again. It's worth it. I've listened to it a few times since I bought it. It gives the reader a brief glimpse into the horrors of the Civil War and the influence they had over a young doctor who was not emotionally equipped to handle them.

The author's narration was terrific. I thoroughly enjoyed the accent and the pace. No dragging here.

Since I love to look things up, the history of the making of a dictionary was right up my alley. I'm also a student of the Civil War so that, too, was interesting. My favorite part of the book would be a spoiler, so here's my challenge to someone reading this review. Listen to it yourself and see if you can guess!

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Fascinating Journey thru the making of the O.E.D

Narrated by the English author, the audio book version makes the mayhem and madness of this lexicologist' s dream all the more engrossing....you'll never look at a dictionary the same way again :^)

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Very good book

If you could sum up The Professor and the Madman in three words, what would they be?

Truth is always stranger than fiction and this book is a prime example. This is a really interesting history on the authoritative book of the English language. Very enjoyable.

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The Professor and the Madman

I loved this book! It's eloquent and beautifully constructed. The detail of the making of the OED was fascinating. From the description of the little pieces of paper on which words were defined to the investigation of the doctor' illness, I found the tale compelling and at times heartbreaking. Beautifully written. Beautifully performed.