The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary

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HarperCollins, Aug 26, 1998 - Biography & Autobiography - 256 pages
2532 Reviews

Mysterious (mistîe · ries), a. [f. L. mystérium Mysteryi + ous. Cf. F. mystérieux.]
1. Full of or fraught with mystery; wrapt in mystery; hidden from human knowledge or understanding; impossible or difficult to explain, solve, or discover; of obscure origin, nature, or purpose.

It is known as one of the greatest literary achievements in the history of English letters. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857, took seventy years to complete, drew from tens of thousands of brilliant minds, and organized the sprawling language into 414,825 precise definitions. But hidden within the rituals of its creation is a fascinating and mysterious story--a story of two remarkable men whose strange twenty-year relationship lies at the core of this historic undertaking.

Professor James Murray, an astonishingly learned former schoolmaster and bank clerk, was the distinguished editor of the OED project. Dr. William Chester Minor, an American surgeon from New Haven, Connecticut, who had served in the Civil War, was one of thousands of contributors who submitted illustrative quotations of words to be used in the dictionary. But Minor was no ordinary contributor. He was remarkably prolific, sending thousands of neat, handwritten quotations from his home in the small village of Crowthorne, fifty miles from Oxford. On numerous occasions Murray invited Minor to visit Oxford and celebrate his work, but Murray's offer was regularly--and mysteriously--refused.

Thus the two men, for two decades, maintained a close relationship only through correspondence. Finally, in 1896, after Minor had sent nearly ten thousand definitions to the dictionary but had still never traveled from his home, a puzzled Murray set out to visit him. It was then that Murray finally learned the truth about Minor--that, in addition to being a masterful wordsmith, Minor was also a murderer, clinically insane--and locked up in Broadmoor, England's harshest asylum for criminal lunatics.

The Professor and the Madman is an extraordinary tale of madness and genius, and the incredible obsessions of two men at the heart of the Oxford English Dictionary and literary history. With riveting insight and detail, Simon Winchester crafts a fascinating glimpse into one man's tortured mind and his contribution to another man's magnificent dictionary.

  

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Thoroughly researched and well written. - Goodreads
Tedious. Interesting premise. - Goodreads
I love Winchester's breezy style of writing. - Goodreads
Surprisingly easy to read and enjoyable. - Goodreads
Book club selection that I found kind of boring. - Goodreads
Educational and entertaining. - Goodreads

Review: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

User Review  - Ruby Noise - Goodreads

As been said before truth is much stranger than fiction. The foibles and genius of men show it's true form in this story. Madness and genius sit quietly together and I believe it's the sensitivities ... Read full review

Review: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

User Review  - Barb Drabowicz - Goodreads

Interesting historical story. Concisely written. Read full review

Contents

The Dead of Night in Lambeth Marsh
1
2 The Man Who Taught Latin to Cattle
23
The Madness of War
43
Gathering Earths Daughters
75
The Big Dictionary Conceived
101
The Scholar in Cell Block Two
115
Entering the Lists
131
S Annulated Art BrickTea Buckwheat
145
The Meeting of Minds
163
The Unkindest Cut
189
Then Only the Monuments
205
Postscript 333
225
Authors Note 337
227
Acknowledgments 331
231
Suggestions for Further Reading
239
Copyright

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About the author (1998)

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa. Those books were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by her Majesty the Queen. He lives in Manhattan and in western Massachusetts.

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