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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

Great book on an unusual topic

This was a great book on an interesting story. The author, Simon Winchester who is also the narrator, found the right balance between facts, story telling, and the dynamics to show that lexicography can, indeed, be interesting. The narrative of this 1998 book covers the mid 1800s to the early 1900s and is stronger than Garfield's Mauve and similar to other well-received works like 2003 Larson's Devil in the White City and 2007 Abbott's Sinn in the Second City that cover the same period in Britain and in the US. Additional material is included describing the author's search for historical material, along with an interview where the current director of the Oxford English Dictionary tries to interview Winchester and ends up being interviewed by him.

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Interesting history. Terrible sound quality

The sound quality is not as good as I have come to expect. I also was a bit put off by the musical interludes.

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Great for listener in the mood for a bio

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

Educational<br/>Sad<br/>Enlightening

Who was your favorite character and why?

I want to hear more about Dr. James Murray! I think his job was momentously difficult, and I want to appreciate it more.

Which scene was your favorite?

The detailed procedure of how volunteers contributed to the OED was just a nerdgasm for me. One would never think how to even begin something like that, and somehow Winchester didn't make it boring.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When Winchester discusses Minor's experience in the Civil War, it was like a web formed in my mind, making all these connections that would, at first look, seem impossible to make.

Any additional comments?

I really highly recommend this if you're a fan of words and good writing, or even just a history buff. Until you read these personal accounts, you can never fully appreciate how odd, sad, and random someone's life can be. Moreover, that a man driven mad by the Civil War can contribute so much to something famous around the world proves to me that any contribution, recognized or not, can have a great impact.

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Memoirs of the Oxford English Dictionary

Wow!

I never knew Lexicography could be interesting to read about. Also its Going to be a film in 2017

This book packages everything so well its hard to find a dull moment. A truly fascinating story and a testament to the English language. Do not pass this read up.

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  • NJSherryWine
  • Southern New Jersey - Beaches & Farms
  • 03-02-17

My first book on Audible...Perfect Choice!

Simon Winchester's writing and narration are outstanding. I felt as though I were listening to a story, rather than a book. I prefer when the author narrates, as long as the author has the ability to execute the narration. This story was engrossing on so many levels. It is part true crime drama, and part historical documentary. Either part of the story would have stood on its own. Truth is stranger than fiction, and these two tales come together flawlessly. It was a fascinating "listen"!

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Interesting facts, but the Story...?

What did you like best about The Professor and the Madman? What did you like least?

I gave up on this book with only 3 chapters remaining. I felt it was interesting to know the history and facts of the OED, but the story just never took hold for me and I was bored with it in the longrun.

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If you like words, this is a book for you.

This is more of a history book than anything, so it is not a fast paced read. But it is interesting, and brings insight in many areas: the Civil War, Ceylon, the treatment of mental illnesses, and, above all, the history of the dictionary. This includes not just the Oxford English Dictionary, but also Samuel Johnson's dictionary. The final chapter includes a discussion between Winchester and the current editor of the OED that should not be missed. Definitely an advantage of this Audible version of the book. If you like words, this book is definitely for you.

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Very interesting story

Very interesting story..would make a very nice movie... WC Minor is a tragic and redemptive figure overall... I liked the fact that the author did not forget about his untimely victim, or his family. They were not footnotes but instilling and tragic figures, too

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Intriguing and entertaining!!!

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook. The story was very interesting from start to finish. The author does a wonderful job at incorporating words, definition, or just the odd fact about that kept me hooked. I also enjoyed the commentary at the end.

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  • Ahsan
  • WATSEKA, IL, United States
  • 02-22-17

Fascinating story about the O.E.D.

The details about how the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled is a great read in and of itself. The background of C.W.Miner, locked up in a Victorian era insane asylum, and his contributions to the OED adds wonderful color to it.