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The Professor and The Madman Unknown Binding – Jan 1 1999


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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial 1999 (1999)
  • ASIN: B0039RZWAY
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (357 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,553,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By William Franklin Jr. on July 3 2004
Format: Paperback
I like reading the occasional historical fact (rather than historical fiction) "novelette," and The Professor and the Madman was definitely easy to get through. One can learn much from books like this, particularly the way normal people lived their day-to-day lives in a certain time and place.
A few things I liked about this book:
1. One will assuredly learn a thing or two about the English language, in reading it. You will learn some obsolete words, the origin of some words, and just get a refresher of other, more common words. Each chapter begins with a dictionary entry of a particular word, some very normal words, some more exotic words.
2. The parallel lives of the two main characters are interesting to follow. One feels real emotions for both. There are a few shocking moments in the book, which stand out quite a bit in front of the otherwise fairly tame narrative.
3. I grew up with the Oxford English Dictionary, and I always wondered how they compiled all the words. It was great learning about how they did that.
4. The book covers an array of themes and topics, and a fairly diverse geography. Mental illness, civil war, sexual propriety, crime and punishment, one can learn a little bit about a lot of issues in the reading of Simon Winchester's book.
I wouldn't recommend the book to just anyone, though. It can be kind of slow, and sometimes one simply grows tired of bouncing back and forth between the two main characters. It is also fairly short; one sort of wishes for more detail on certain events. In some places, the book reads like a crime/detective novel from the 19th century, in others it is more like a biography. It sort of skips around from one style to the next, almost as if different parts were written at very different times by an author in very different states of mind. Overall, though, this book is a nice, quick read, a good plot, and you will learn a thing or two from it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Louise on Sept. 9 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is an 'easy' read. However, it's content is not what one might expect! I found the book quite fascinating and, at the same time learned a lot, amongst other important issues, about American history during the civil war.
The two main characters definitely left a lasting legacy! Who would have thought that, the creation of the Oxford Dictionary would involve such people of different backgrounds and, personal history.

This book stands out as one one should read!

Helga Sarkar
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Format: Hardcover
The book is well balanced between the history of the OED and the life and times of Dr. William Minor, (a major contributor).

Simon Winchester can hold back all the good stuff and disperse it throughout his writing. So just when you think you read it all, some new fact or weird quirk shows up. Interspersed with the story are relevant definitions, as they would appear in the OED. His description of Broadmoor makes you want to sign up on the waiting list.
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By CFB on July 21 2013
Format: Paperback
Interesting story, unfortunately mishandled by the author. A book on the makings of the OED deserves better. Beware of: overuse of adjectives, pointlessly disjointed structure, and simplistic treatment of the archival backbone of the story. But a rich tale shines through despite.
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By John A. on Feb. 7 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Enjoyed reading this book. Well written, and very interesting. Certainly proves that the truth can be stranger than fiction. Will be reading more from this author.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Professor & the Madman is both captivating and informative. The conception of the Oxford English Dictionary is an unparalleled testament of hardship and one man's redemption within confinement. The story outlines the lives of two pivotal characters Dr. William Minor and Sir James Murray. Both undertook a philological endeavor that has defined the English language we know today. Not only did I find this story entertaining, but I now have an interest in philology. This book is a great example of the oddities that define our world.

In contrast to other of Simon Winchesters' publications such as The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa. The Professor & the Madman had more of a linear flow and was much easier to read. Unlike the other two it was not saturated with implicit information.

I highly recommend The Professor & the Madman.
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Format: Hardcover
This book leaves me with a myriad of emotions! It is quite depressing about one man's passion and his madness. It is a wonderful study of a man obsessed words. And yet, at times I found it darkly humorous. I mean if you were working on a project that would take 70 years, you would never see finished in your lifetime, you were trying to catalogue EVERY word in the English language, the origins and variations, and do this in the 1800's when there was no computers - no typewriters....well, you would HAVE to be mad.
So if you have ever used a dictionary, you need to read this. It will give you a new appreciation of the book of words.
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By "cabate2" on Sept. 23 2001
Format: Paperback
Talk about a tulip bulb phenomenon. Everybody loves this book because everybody loves this book. Yes, it has some interesting thoughts, but they are stretched out and repeated to fill space. Nice concept, but more appropriately a magazine or Sunday paper article rather than a whole book.
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