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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Notable Book

The Professor and the Madman is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary - and literary history.

The making of the OED was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, was stunned to discover that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than 10,000. But their surprise would pale in comparison to what they were about to discover when the committee insisted on honoring him. For Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

Masterfully researched and eloquently written, The Professor and the Madman "is the linguistic detective story of the decade." (William Safire, New York Times Magazine)

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

Critic Reviews

  • 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 listeners say about The Professor and the Madman

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Z
  • 11-27-05

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.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

15 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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History is funny

Interesting story to about the contributions of complicated persons who society tags as useless. I bought this book referred by a podcast about a person who was incarcerated and barely illiterate, who taught himself to read better and contributed in the same way to editing the encyclopedia. Editor corresponded with him while incarcerated, never met him while he was inside. Lobbied the warden when they took away books. Provided the inmate with a job after release.
Simon Jones as usual, excellent. Why did he not read the unabridged version?

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I wanted more

I really liked this book, I just wish there was more of it. this felt more like an extended ted talk than a full book

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the biography of a dictionary

How interesting can the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary be? Well, in this case, immensely! It is extremely sad that true mental illness brought on by PTSD made one of the protagonists so fascinating, but there you go. Misters Winchester and Jones did a great job bringing to evanescent life a tale that could have been merely mildly interesting, while casually tossing out three or four sesquipedalian words you will have to dig out your OED for!

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Wasted Credit

Dry, and uninteresting, save the last 10 minutes. I was very disappointed. This could've been great (possibly???) given another author and narrator.

1 person found this helpful