- Paperback: 242 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060839783
- ISBN-13: 978-0060839789
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (857 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Paperback – July 5, 2005
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary, 70 years in the making, was an intellectually heroic feat with a twist worthy of the greatest mystery fiction: one of its most valuable contributors was a criminally insane American physician, locked up in an English asylum for murder. British stage actor Simon Jones leads us through this uncommon meeting of minds (the other belonging to self-educated dictionary editor James Murray) at full gallop. Ultimately, it's hard to say which is more remarkable: the facts of this amazingly well-researched story, or the sound of author Simon Winchester's erudite prose. Jones's reading smoothly transports listeners to the 19th century, reminding us why so many brilliant people obsessively set out to catalogue the English language. This unabridged version contains an interview between Winchester and John Simpson, editor of the Oxford dictionary. (Running time: 6.5 hours, 6 cassettes) --Lou Schuler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The Oxford English Dictionary used 1,827,306 quotations to help define its 414,825 words. Tens of thousands of those used in the first edition came from the erudite, moneyed American Civil War veteran Dr. W.C. Minor?all from a cell at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Vanity Fair contributor Winchester (River at the Center of the World) has told his story in an imaginative if somewhat superficial work of historical journalism. Sketching Minor's childhood as a missionary's son and his travails as a young field surgeon, Winchester speculates on what may have triggered the prodigious paranoia that led Minor to seek respite in England in 1871 and, once there, to kill an innocent man. Pronounced insane and confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon a call for OED volunteers in the early 1880s. Here on more solid ground, Winchester enthusiastically chronicles Minor's subsequent correspondence with editor Dr. J.A.H. Murray, who, as Winchester shows, understood that Minor's endless scavenging for the first or best uses of words became his saving raison d'etre, and looked out for the increasingly frail man's well-being. Winchester fills out the story with a well-researched mini-history of the OED, a wonderful demonstration of the lexicography of the word "art" and a sympathetic account of Victorian attitudes toward insanity. With his cheeky way with a tale ("It is a brave and foolhardy and desperate man who will perform an autopeotomy" he writes of Minor's self-mutilation), Winchester celebrates a gloomy life brightened by devotion to a quietly noble, nearly anonymous task. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Peter Matson. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 70%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.
For thousands of qualifying books, your past, present, and future print-edition purchases now lets you buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 or less. (Textbooks available for $9.99 or less.)
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
At this point Winchester's speculations aroused my irritation. He wonders, as he admits without any evidence and some evidence to the contrary, whether Minor had sex with the victim's widow in the asylum. Unseemly, I think. Sometimes, too, I was irritated by Winchester's unnecessary and irrelevant displays of documentation, such as the detailed account of the funeral route of Minor's victim. My chief disappointment was with the scant treatment of the OED itself. He takes us through the deaths of the madman and the professor but barely mentions the birth of the dictionary they had worked so long and hard to produce.
Winchester mixes legend, fact, speculation, inference, and insight in his account of Dr. William Minor, a Yale-educated American Civil War surgeon, who, tormented by mental illness, uses his service weapon to kill a hapless brewery worker in England. Remitted to an asylum for the criminally insane, Dr. Minor has a gentlemanly life by day and a tortured and tormented existence at night. He becomes an invaluable volunteer contributor to the OED, while those responsible for the OED are unaware of his confinement. With its twists, turns, and surprises, the book could have been a mystery novel.
Parts of the book drag and seem padded, especially near the end. Though the book includes some charming illustrations, it would have benefited from inclusion of photos, particularly those Winchester describes in the text. Also, Winchester goes overboard with some speculations: If as an early teen Minor had masturbated or fornicated he "might have turned out very differently;" while in the asylum, did Minor have sex with the widow of the man he had killed? But all in all, a highly readable tale well told.
A must read for the lover of the English language, for the conissour of words, for another indictment on war and its collateral damages, on the tragedy of mental illness and in the end the perseverance and resiliency of the human spirit.