Automotive Deals HPCC Amazon Fashion Learn more nav_sap_plcc_ascpsc Pink Floyd Fire TV Stick Happy Belly Coffee Handmade school supplies Shop-by-Room Amazon Cash Back Offer TarantinoCollection TarantinoCollection TarantinoCollection  Amazon Echo  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Amazon Echo Starting at $49.99 All-New Kindle Oasis AutoRip in CDs & Vinyl Segway miniPro
The Professor and the Madman and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary
See larger image and other views

Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering
More Buying Choices
Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Start reading The Professor and the Madman on your Kindle in under a minute.

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Simon Winchester
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (788 customer reviews)

List Price: $14.99
Price: $8.80 & FREE Shipping on eligible orders. Details
You Save: $6.19 (41%)
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.
Want it tomorrow, July 27? Choose One-Day Shipping at checkout. Details
New York Times best sellers
Browse the New York Times best sellers in popular categories like Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Books and more. See more

Book Description

October 4, 2005

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, 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 compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W.C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

This audio also includes a conversation between Simon Winchester and John Simpson, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary

Frequently Bought Together

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary + Atlantic
Price for both: $37.46

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews Review

When the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary put out a call during the late 19th century pleading for "men of letters" to provide help with their mammoth undertaking, hundreds of responses came forth. Some helpers, like Dr. W.C. Minor, provided literally thousands of entries to the editors. But Minor, an American expatriate in England and a Civil War veteran, was actually a certified lunatic who turned in his dictionary entries from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Simon Winchester has produced a mesmerizing coda to the deeply troubled Minor's life, a life that in one sense began with the senseless murder of an innocent British brewery worker that the deluded Minor believed was an assassin sent by one of his numerous "enemies."

Winchester also paints a rich portrait of the OED's leading light, Professor James Murray, who spent more than 40 years of his life on a project he would not see completed in his lifetime. Winchester traces the origins of the drive to create a "Big Dictionary" down through Murray and far back into the past; the result is a fascinating compact history of the English language (albeit admittedly more interesting to linguistics enthusiasts than historians or true crime buffs). That Murray and Minor, whose lives took such wildly disparate turns yet were united in their fierce love of language, were able to view one another as peers and foster a warm friendship is just one of the delicately turned subplots of this compelling book. --Tjames Madison --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Audio CD: 6 pages
  • Publisher: HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (October 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060836261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060836269
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (788 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews
248 of 261 people found the following review helpful
I purchased this book while in London recently under its British title THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE. Apparently for American readers, the publishers felt it necessary to "tart up" the title to THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN. Regardless, Simon Winchester's story between the covers is splendidly told, without sensationalising even the most horrific details, revealed matter of factly well into the book. The story is that of Dr. Minor - an American Civil War surgeon - who went mad amid the horrors of "The Wilderness." Pursued by his nightly demons, he later wound up in grim South London where he shot dead a totally innocent man. Sent to Broadmoor - a sprawling lunatic asylum near London - he became one of the most valuable contributors to the compilation of the magisterial Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester recounts - correcting but not spoiling a wonderful story - the meeting between the OED's legendary James Murray and his reclusive contributor. While ultimately Dr Minor's story is a tragic one - not the least for his hapless victim - it is also a tribute to the persistence of the human mind. Cleverly presented with appropriate OED citings, this book is not to be missed for anyone interested in words. If you'll excuse the expression, this is the "definitive" work.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Report abuse
108 of 116 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and well-researched, but a bit melodramatic September 14, 2000
James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, corresponded with Dr. W.C. Minor for many years; Dr. Minor was one of the most indefatigable contributors to the OED. Minor was committed to an Broadmoor asylum in 1872, having murdered an innocent man. Nowadays we would call him a paranoid schizophrenic; in those days they just called him insane.
In the asylum he had plenty of time to locate and submit thousands of usage slips to the OED, and thus began his relationship with Murray. It is an extraordinary relationship, and Winchester wrings every last drop of melodrama from it--to the point of irritating the reader.
For example, for many years there was a standard tale about the first meeting of Murray and Minor, in which Murray only finds out when he actually arrives at Broadmoor that Dr. Minor is not on the staff, but is an inmate. Winchester opens the book with the phrase "Popular myth has it that . . . " and proceeds to tell the tale; it is an engaging story, and he tells it well. However, halfway through the book he points out that it is false, and has been known to be so for several years. He does eventually give the true version of events, but dangling the attractive lie in front of the reader like this while delaying the less exciting truth is a sign of his weakness for sensationalism.
Another example (p. 195 in the paperback edition): after describing a particular gruesome episode of his madness, Winchester speculates for a whole page about a possible cause for which there is not even a hint of evidence--that Minor had an affair with the wife of the man he murdered. Winchester freely admits this is a complete fabrication, but includes it as "legitimate speculation"; to me, it feels more like tabloid journalism.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Report abuse
112 of 123 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine book that needs an index March 3, 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For those who love words and reference books, this is a well-told yarn. Being the story of the relationship between one William Minor, a doctor and convicted lunatic suffering from paranoia, and James Murray, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, there is much more right with the book than wrong, but it does have some problems, primarily the lack of an index. Any book with so many names should have an index.

Secondly, one wishes to see and hear more -- the author refers to several interesting photographs: a formal farewell photo of Minor near the end of his life, returning to America after 37 years in England (all but one spent in Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane); the last photo of Murray, a fortnight before his death, in the Scriptorium (where the OED was compiled) surrounded by his daughters and staff. It would have been nice to see these pictures. The author refers several times to Minor's handwriting and many times to his letters. It would have added to the story to see at least a few letters in full, and particularly to have seen a sample of Minor's writing. In addition, Winchester credits the motivation for the creation of the OED to an address by Richard Trench, in which Trench delineates seven ways that dictionaries of the time were deficient, but then states that "most of them are technical and should not concern us here"! I think people interested in this book *would* most likely be interested in these technical details. If nothing else, they should be put in a (foot)note.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Report abuse
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read October 26, 1999
By A Customer
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, mainly for learning about some of the key people and events behind one of the greatest undertakings in the English language. A lot of us today take the existence of the dictionary for granted, not realizing how it evolved from its first incarnations, or exactly what kind of work went into its preparation. Simon Winchester does a great job tracing the history of the dictionary to give frame of reference to his main story. The details of Dr. Minor's and James Murray's histories have been carefully researched and presented so as to thoroughly engage the reader. The only drawback I found is, despite the book's applaudable effort to dispel the myths surrounding Dr. Minor's involvement in the making of the OED, sometimes the writing style inadvertently falls into this same trap of myth-making. The words "lunatic" and "madman" are often used in the sensationalized sense the Victorians used them, thereby unnecessarily judging and glamorizing Dr. Minor's mental illness. Also, the defining incident at Lambeth is written as a Victorian thriller, complete with gas lamps, "bone-chilling cold" and a figure lurking in dark narrow streets. This extra air of mystery was not needed, as the real events are more than compelling enough to make you want to read more. All in all, though, an absorbing tale.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Report abuse
Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A very interesting story about the advent of the dictionary. Told in a captive way.
Published 7 days ago by waltzing Mary
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story
I really liked this narrative. The story is fascinating. It is well written. I was drawn in immediately and had a hard time putting it down. Well worth the read.
Published 11 days ago by Bhamdo
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Took a long time for the story to unfold
Published 12 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Review
A good history of the dictionary. Sad. Useful for those interested in the history of language. Somewhat dry but not unpleasant.
Published 19 days ago by A.
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent story. It not only tells us about how ...
This is an excellent story. It not only tells us about how the OED was put together, but how huge a job it was. Read more
Published 21 days ago by stephen jefferson
5.0 out of 5 stars Anything by Simon Winchester is a fabulous, enlightening read!
Incredible story. Who would be believe it could be so interesting? I was not really surprised, because this author wrote, "The Man Who Loved China," which is a simply... Read more
Published 21 days ago by j w polzien
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping retelling of a fascinating and forgotten tale
I have been wanting to read Simon Winchester's fascinating and previously almost unknown story of two singular characters for a long time. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Ash Jogalekar
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerizing tale of Wikipedia's forerunner
The title says it all and this book delivers! The narrative is gripping. The protagonist sympathetic. The story of the OED's inception is Wikipedia-esque. The result? Read more
Published 28 days ago by Kaui
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Interesting insight into the background of something we take for granted.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars What a story - and it's true.
Truth is stranger than fiction and this one is an incredible tale. The Oxford English Dictionary is a remarkable achievement by any standard. Read more
Published 1 month ago by S.Markel
Search Customer Reviews

Set up an Amazon Giveaway

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary
Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers. Learn more about Amazon Giveaway
This item: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary

Look for Similar Items by Category