Saturday, October 1, 2016

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

Harper - 2005

I cringed a bit when I learned what our book group selection for September was. Clearly, it seemed like a book that I would have little interest in especially considering the shelves and shelves of little gems I need to read from my shelves.  However, I gave it a shot, but, in the end it was just not for me.

(Description from Amazon Website)

Hidden within the rituals of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary is a fascinating mystery. 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 the most prolific contributors to the dictionary, sending thousands of neat, hand-written quotations from his home. After numerous refusals from Minor to visit his home in Oxford, Murray set out to find him. It was then that Murray would finally learn the truth about Minor – that, in addition to being a masterly wordsmith, he was also an insane murderer locked up in Broadmoor, an English asylum for criminal lunatics. The Professor and the Madman is the unforgettable story of the madness and genius that contributed to one of the greatest literary achievements in the history of English letters.

Here's what are group thought of the book.


  • Only (9) people showed up to discuss this book, normally we have about 15.
  • Only (3) people enjoyed it; one of the 3 was fascinated and stated she has a new fascination with word origins
  • Those of us who did not care for the book gave the following reasons ----
  • Not enough time spent on the actual compilation of the dictionary which took some 70 years to complete
  • Writing was too simplistic and repetitive 
  • For a non fiction work, the author often seemed to know what others were thinking
  • Would have been nice to see references for things represented as fact
  • No footnotes
  • Seemed embellished and sensationalized
Have you read this one?  If so what did you think?


2.5/5 stars
(library book)

27 comments:

  1. oh wow, I enjoyed this book a lot, as actually all the books by Winchester that I have read

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    1. I'm happy you enjoyed this and I doubt I'd try his other books - probably a loss for me.

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  2. I also read this book for my book club and I really enjoyed it. I don't read much nonfiction but this one piqued my interest when it was chosen. I thought the background creation of the OED was interesting enough. What a weird man he was.
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
    Follow me on Bloglovin'

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    1. Sorry Kathy , that comment was meant for Rebecca who read the book. You'd have to try this and decide.

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  4. I was curious about this one when it was published but it doesn't look like my type of book at all. Thanks for the warning.

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  5. That is too bad this wasn't very well done. I was curious about it, but I have never got a chance to read it... Doesn't sound worth it, though!

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  6. Not sure if I would enjoy this one either. I like your header photo!

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  7. I haven't read it, and doubt I ever will.

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    1. As I stated to others, you could be one who loves it.

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  8. What a disappointment - I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. I've often questioned whether or not I should continue with book club precisely because I have so many books I want to read (although now that I choose all of the books, that's not an issue) but also because I want to be able to read what I want WHEN I want to.

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    1. I don't like the book group press to read a certain book LOL

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  9. My husband enjoyed this one quite a bit. It's not one that has ever appealed to me, so I probably would've have skipped your book club meeting, too. :)

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  10. I also thought this book was great. But then, I am a dictionary nut!

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    1. Judy, nothing wrong with that but, yes, that should be the criteria for reading it. LOL

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  11. I read this one years ago, before I began book blogging. I remember thinking it was really interesting. I don't remember the writing, just that I was fascinated by the process of creating a dictionary.

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    1. You don't remember the seriously disturbed one? OUCH - I'll never forget him.

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  12. I had mixed feelings about this book too. I read it awhile ago and loved the idea of it, but thought it long-winded.

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    1. I just wished more time was spent on the dictionary at times.

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  13. Oh boy, I had some hope for this book but it sounds terrible to me now. I don't think I will be reading this one. Sorry it didn't work for you.

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