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Extended Audio Sample The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Audiobook, by Simon Winchester Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (34,655 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Simon Winchester Narrator: Simon Winchester Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2004 ISBN: 9780060756321
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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, and drew from tens of thousands of brilliant minds. But hidden within the rituals of its creation is a fascinating and mysterious story.

Professor James Murray was the distinguished editor of the OED project. Dr. William Chester Minor, an American surgeon who had served in the Civil War, was one of thousands of contributors to the dictionary. But Minor was no ordinary contributor. He was remarkably prolific, sending thousands of neat, hand-written quotations from his home. On numerous occasions Murray invited Minor to visit Oxford and celebrate his work, but Murray’s offer was regularly, mysteriously, refused.

Finally, a puzzled Murray set out to visit him. It was then that Murray would finally learn the truth about Minor: that, in addition to being a masterly 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. Written with riveting insight and detail, Simon Winchester delivers a fascinating glimpse into one man’s tortured mind and his contribution to another man’s magnificent dictionary.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “High marks to this entertaining study of a fascinating piece of literary history.”

    Huffington Post

  • The Professor and the Madman interweaves the sagas of Murray, Minor, and the OED with all the fascination of a well-crafted mystery, compelling the reader to find out how two such remarkable men came to cooperate on such a ludicrously ambitious project.”

    Barnes & Noble, editorial review

  • “With his cheeky way with a tale …Winchester celebrates a gloomy life brightened by devotion to a quietly noble, nearly anonymous task.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “ First-rate writing: well-crafted, incisive, abundantly playful.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A 1998 New York Times Notable Book for Nonfiction
  • A 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Annie | 1/20/2014

    " Fascinating and informative. A melding of history and characters. I love when a nonfiction book shows something well-known from a different point of view, or at least, mixes it with other information from the current day that one would normally never associate with the subject. Also, this is an acute view of mental illness and how it was viewed in history (specifically in Victorian England). A big question is, would the Oxford English Dictionary have been less magnificent if one of its main patrons was treated differently? "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chrissy | 1/4/2014

    " Much more tragic a story than I'd ever expected, this book delivers on its tripartite promise of murder, insanity, and dictionary-making. It details the history of the timelessly impressive accomplishment that is the Oxford English Dictionary, focusing on one of its most prolific volunteer contributors-- who also happened to be a life-long patient at an institute for the criminally insane. What evolves from this exploration of a life's work is a completely haunting, though at times touching, tale of the human mind in all its capacities. Simon Winchester moves from Ceylonian (now Sri Lankan) beaches to the American Civil war, from Victorian London slums to the castles of Oxford University, and always back to mental institutes, skillfully weaving a narrative of a promising life gone wrong and the good that nevertheless came out of it. What I found most interesting (I'm a psychological researcher, I can't help it) were the moral questions that Winchester poses, but does not claim to know a "right answer" to, regarding the recent institutionalization of psychopharmaceuticals in the treatment of mental disorder. Is it right, he asks, to erode away with medication the unusual neurological landscapes that often contribute to great inventions, discoveries, or accomplishments, because they can also lead to harm or danger? Can we weigh the value of unique mental perspectives against the threat of volatility? Is a human life worth a creation as influential and magnificent as the Oxford English Dictionary, and should we even be the ones deciding? I learned a lot from this book, least of which is a host of new words to add to my vocabulary; it speaks much more strongly to the human condition than to lexicography, but it offers a truly fascinating, absolutely sad, history of both. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Deb | 12/30/2013

    " What a totally engrossing and interesting book! Simon Winchester's voice as the narrator is so compelling and almost spell-binding that it is hard to put this book down. Who would have thought that it would take seventy years to put together the Oxford English Dictionary and that there were so many stories behind it's writing? The book was just long enough to keep it really interesting. I am certainly interested in reading other books by Winchester. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Katherine | 11/30/2013

    " This book could have been a fascinating magazine article, but was bloated and too excited about uninteresting tangents (in the purplest of prose) at its full length. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Marcy Skala | 11/22/2013

    " Fast read. Really enjoyable. Seems odd that Winchester included so little about the other madman contributor (the hermit) "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shelley | 11/16/2013

    " Very easy and enjoyable read about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary--and the criminally insane American Civil War surgeon who was one of the main contributors. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jennie | 10/21/2013

    " Thoroughly enjoyed, but it's been too long since I read this for me to give it a comprehensive review. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Lisa Findley | 10/21/2013

    " Reads like an interesting magazine article stretched to book length. Also, Winchester's self-congratulatory epilogue on being the first person to commemorate the murdered man who started the whole affair was a little gross. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Stephanie | 8/18/2013

    " The making of the Oxford English Dictionary is much much more interesting than I thought! Brilliant book! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Piper | 6/1/2013

    " The stories of the people involved in the making of the dictionary were very interesting. The technical details of the making of the dictionary..not so much. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Greg | 5/11/2013

    " Couldn't get through it, got dense, or just not in the head space. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cathie huelsbeck | 3/24/2013

    " Well, I finished this book and while it's something I would never have read on my own (I read it for my book club) I did enjoy it, although some parts were kind of boring to me, towards the end of the book it got much more interesting and then I enjoyed it. It is an amazing story! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Seán O'Hara | 12/29/2012

    " A fascinating read for those interested in the English language, history, and the nuisances of human mind. I could not put it down. Not for the faint of heart as there is a fair amount of darkness to this work, but I do recommend it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andy | 10/25/2012

    " Who knew that the OED was beholden to an American, much less a convicted murderer? Great story! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jason Burggraaf | 8/26/2012

    " A really engaging book that reads like a novel. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Caitlin | 3/8/2012

    " Towards the end, this one took a turn I wasn't expecting, but overall an interesting, if only a bit sensational, read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Stephanie Kayhan | 12/22/2011

    " I love learning new things and this gave me much insigh and was fascinating. However, it's certainly not a page-turner. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jack Richins | 9/25/2011

    " Can't remember if I finished. Just got boring at the end. And sad. But the dictionary sounds interesting. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Patty Vela | 9/19/2011

    " Curious about how the Oxford English Dictionary came about....pretty wild story! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Colleen | 8/30/2011

    " This book takes the reader back to Victorian England to describe the unbelievable creation/compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the two remarkable men who brought the project to completion. Amazing! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Anna | 5/19/2011

    " Who knew that a book about the creation of a dictionary could be so fascinating? I could not put this book down. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jason | 5/16/2011

    " A bittersweets story of how a paranoid schizophrenic, convicted of murder and condemned to an insane asylum, finds solace by taking part in the greatest English literary achievement to date. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Libby | 5/13/2011

    " What a great book! I had forgotten all about it I read it so long ago. Must go find and reread! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Deepti | 5/12/2011

    " Nice weaving of history, facts, and fiction all in one. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Karen | 5/8/2011

    " A truly weird tale about the making of the Oxford Dictionary. I enjoyed it immensely. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marissa | 5/8/2011

    " "He was mad, and for that, we have reason to be glad." Unless you're the wife or one of the 7 children of the man he killed that is. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Melissa | 5/7/2011

    " The book was an interesting story, but I found it quite boring. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jennifer | 5/6/2011

    " The parts that were really amazing had to compete with the parts that were simply pretentious. Pity. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Miriam | 5/3/2011

    " Couldn't get through it. So boring. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Diah | 4/28/2011

    " I'm a lingo junkie so I really liked this book. Lotsof interesting detail, simply superb :) "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Leah | 4/28/2011

    " The book was exceedingly hard to get into and and abnormally slow. It was not as informative as one might think. I would no recommended this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tim | 4/24/2011

    " Read this book a second time after reading it the first time in 2004. A good book that gives you a deep appreciation of the work and effort that went into the making of the OED. "

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About the Author
Author Simon Winchester

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—all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006 Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire by her Majesty the Queen. He lives in Manhattan and in western Massachusetts.