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Simon Winchester was born and educated in England. He was a foreign correspondent for more than thirty years includng twelve years for the Guardian in Asia, reporting on the Hong Kong handover to China for the newspaper in , and twenty years as the Asia editor for Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of many highly acclaimed and bestsellng works of non-fiction. He now lives in Massachusetts. Subscribe now to be the first to hear about specials and upcoming releases.

Title Author. Add to Basket Add to Wishlist. Author's Bio Simon Winchester was born and educated in England. Murray and the rest of the editors. Sounds intriguing. There is not a lot of difference really - between a prof and a madman.

Anyone read it? Carole It was intriguing. I would have to disagree with your reference to the similarity between a professor and a madman. Every profession has members who …more It was intriguing. Every profession has members who some might consider mad.

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It is all a matter of perspective. Professors no, I am not one think deeply and that is uncomfortable to people who don't. See all 7 questions about The Professor and the Madman…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. I was driving into work the other day thinking about Herbert Coleridge and realized that I might possibly be the only person on the planet driving to work thinking about Her I was driving into work the other day thinking about Herbert Coleridge and realized that I might possibly be the only person on the planet driving to work thinking about Herbie.

Of course, there are such a vast number of people on this planet that chances are someone was thinking about him. The reason I was thinking about him is because Simon Winchester mentioned him, and my quick research, before leaving for work, had been unsatisfactory in discovering how exactly he was descended from Samuel. Of course, my first thought was that she must have had him out of wedlock. I must formally apologize to Mrs. Sara Coleridge for thinking such scandalous thoughts. As it turns out, she married her first cousin Henry Nelson Coleridge.

Herbert was very much a legitimate child. Though the idea of creating a complete dictionary of the English language was proposed in It was not until that parts of it were ready for publication. It floundered for decades under the weight of its own expectations. Murray was a precocious talent, a true scholar who was, for the most part, self-educated. Knowing something for the sake of knowing it has become such an outdated concept as to be considered odd behavior.

James Murray in the scriptorium built to house all the slips of paper coming in from his readers to compile the OED. Murray knew that this project was too large for the academic community to shoulder alone. He placed advertisements asking for help from the whole country. He needed readers who would notate words and the sentence they were used in.


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The system Murray developed to handle this influx of information is ingenious, and like most clever systems simple by design. One of the people who answered his call for help was an American surgeon named Doctor William Chester Minor. He became one of the largest, most consistent contributors to the OED. I could almost believe that Minor is sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches while seated at a garden table at Windsor waiting for the Queen to have a chance to see him.

Unfortunately, it is just a pretty way of saying he is incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane. As you learn the details of his life he was most assuredly dangerously insane with roots for this insanity going back to the time he served in the Union army during the Civil War. The roots went deeper, in fact back into his genetic history. His family was delicate mentally.


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  • They were bright and brilliant but like many hyper intelligent people wound too tight. They felt things too intently. Two of his brothers committed suicide. Minor was beset by twisted, shattered dreams involving Irish people trying to kill. He was a self-reproaching masturbator who also has vivid nightmares which fueled his already prodigious self-abuse. This all culminated in one final act which made it readily apparent that his incarceration was the only option left for society.

    It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the Madman and the Professor, without the added distractions of Ingrid Bergman or Paul Henreid. Though Minor was held in Broadmoor for the criminally insane, he had money and, therefore, could enjoy more luxury than the normal inmate. In fact, he rented a second cell, and that became his sitting room and library. He paid another inmate to build him beautiful, teak bookshelves. His wealth enabled him to also buy expensive antique books from bookstores not only in England, but from America as well.

    Considering the circumstances, he was beyond just comfortable, and if one can ignore the bars on the windows, you might even say he was pampered.

    The Surgeon of Crowthorne : A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary

    Working on the OED helped him focus his mind and probably kept him from spiralling deeper into his own misconceptions. Neither Murray nor Minor lived long enough to see the job done, but without their Herculean efforts the whole idea may have been relegated to another generation or maybe never completed at all. As Murray became more and more famous, he became more and more uncomfortable with the attention.

    Murray and Minor both found that task in compiling the English language. Winchester does a wonderful job of conveying the absurdity and the wonderfulness of these two men finding so much in common, despite one existing in the hallowed halls of academia and the other existing in the bedlam of an asylum. I once dated a young lady who owned a two volume boxed copy of the OED, which also included a small drawer on top for the much needed magnifying glass.

    It was an affordable way to own the twenty volume OED. I was accused by a friend of dating this girl for the primary purpose of having access to her OED. I was appalled and offended by such a dastardly assertion. I was, if anything, dating her for her F. Scott Fitzgerald first edition collection.

    Alas, as it turns out, the woman was batshit crazy, so a merging of libraries never occurred. I do think back to those halcyon days when she had left for work, and it was just me, the OED, and the Fitzgeralds.


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    View all 60 comments. May 15, Stephen rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction , books-about-books , , biographies , true-crime , history , audiobook. As a completely fledged bibliopsychotic and an ever-striving-to-be cunning-linguist , I was all aquiver with anticipation to bury my face in this purported history of the Oxford English Dictionary OED.

    Minor, a criminally insane murderer. This was a disappointing use of subject matter allocation. Most of the biographical portion is devoted to Dr. Minor who, admittedly, was a fascinating character with a colorful history. Granted, when Dr. I was also wincing and reading with one hand while the other one was guarding my goodies. I screamed reading about it. The guy was a whole bowl of grape-nuts.

    As for Professor Murray, I found the portions dealing with him to be tedious and dry. I could have done without them completely so his appearance has been edited from this review. Still, there is some real gold in the book. Even with the relatively scant attention paid to the actual production of the OED, there were a handful of highlights that make this book well worth perusing.

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    Please give me a full book on this someday…squeeeeee. These discussions about the research methods and the comprehensive aspect of the undertaken begun in on the OED was mind-boggling. While giving a run down on the origin of the first dictionary, Winchester discusses the fact that Shakespeare, with his amazingly diverse vocabulary, was able to write such works with no centralized catalog of words allowing him to confirm their proper usage.

    That revelation alone was worth the price of the book for me and further elevated my profound respect for the masterful word-smiths of antiquity.