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

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9780060994860: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary

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.

 

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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

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“I am the Governor of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Dr Minor is most certainly here.”

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Winchester, Simon
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Book Description Harper Perennial September 1999, 1999. Paper Back. Book Condition: New. There ought to be a new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for a book like this -- part detective story, part tragedy, part meditation on all the crooked lines that often go into something straight. It is about ''grand conjunctions'': in this case the crossed paths of a brilliant though unhinged American army surgeon committed to an insane asylum after a murder, and the chief editor of the OED. Simon Winchester is a skilled and sympathetic storyteller, in awe of the mystery of the human person, the riddle of madness and genius that confronts us in Dr. William Chester Minor (the surgeon) and Dr. James Murray (the editor), and of the unimaginably huge task of creating the OED. One might expect a narrative that stretches from the fortunes of a missionary family in Ceylon, to the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, to the seamier side of Victorian London, to be merely sprawling, but it is all woven together subtly and sensibly. Don't miss this poignant, enjoyable, rewarding read. Bookseller Inventory # 130169

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