Jason Koivu's Reviews > The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1742824
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: biography, history, penises
Recommended to Jason by: friends
Recommended for: word nerds that want a bit of titillation

A man goes insane, shoots another man to death and then helps write one of the first complete dictionaries. What an odd way to enter the academic world!

And believe it or not, those aren't even spoilers! Simon Winchester gives us all that right in the title of his surprisingly riveting read The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The idea of reading a book on the creation of a dictionary only sounded mildly interesting. In the hands of the wrong writer that book might not have entertained me from start to finish the way Winchester did. Granted the story has its intriguing oddities and the occasional shocking moment, but it's Winchester's ability to dramatize this hundreds-of-years-old story that makes it seem as vivid and catchy as the headlines of the morning newspaper. He is a writer who brings legend to life.

As exciting as I find it, this is a book about making a dictionary and that won't enthrall all readers. It gets an extra nudge up in the star department from me, because this is a book about words and I like words. If you're still reading this, I suspect you do too.
78 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Professor and the Madman.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
November 22, 2008 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Cherry Simon Winchester rocks. I'm such a groupie!


Jason Koivu Someone flagged this review because it has spoilers? The title of the book itself is the biggest spoiler of them all!


message 3: by Wendy (new)

Wendy I see you haven't read the The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language.

If you like words, this is a must read. It's clever and funny too.


Jason Koivu Wendy wrote: "I see you haven't read the The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language.

If you like words, this is a must read. It's clever and funny too."


Thanks, it's on my to-read list now!


message 5: by Michele (new) - added it

Michele I've owned this book for years. I'll move it up on my list of to-reads now!


message 6: by carol. (new)

carol. I like words too. ;)


message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim I remember the story - probably an old Paul Harvey "rest-of-the-story". I don;t recall that it was the OED - which tells me I heard the story before I knew what the OED was.


message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim Now I have the two compact OED's - 1971 and ca-1991.

I'd love to have an OED online account.


Jason Koivu Jim wrote: "I remember the story - probably an old Paul Harvey "rest-of-the-story". I don;t recall that it was the OED - which tells me I heard the story before I knew what the OED was."

First time I heard Paul Harvey was on a looong road trip up to Maine with my grandparents when I was about ten. We stopped somewhere, I think it was around Bah Hahbah, for a late breakfast and they had Harvey on the radio. I didn't understand why they were listening to a guy talk on the radio, because as far as I knew, the radio was for music only. I was bored already and he was boring more. Plus, his voice also creeped me out. It wasn't a great first impression. But hey, I was a dumb kid, what did I know?


message 10: by Jim (new)

Jim Bah Hahbah?

I don't really trust my own first impressions - either as a child or nowadays in my "dotage".

I remember being initially unimpressed with Side One of Chicago Two - talk about clueless.

I remember thinking certainy girls in school were "plain" or even "ugly". By my twenties I looked at their photos in my yearbook. While they weren't "babes" - they were certainly fascinating - even striking.

One's view of the world can be constantly subject to revision - some call that "open-minded".


Jason Koivu Bah Hahbah = Bar Harbor


message 12: by Anne (new)

Anne Jason, how do you manage to make a book about a dictionary sound interesting?!
Impressed, as always...


message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim how do you manage to make a book about a dictionary sound interesting?!

The OED is by far the most interesting dictionary out there - if for only this (huge) reason:

It has the first known usage in print for every sense of every english word. Only Victorian Hubris could conceive and then pursue such an ambitious project and God Bless 'em for it!


Jason Koivu Anne wrote: "Jason, how do you manage to make a book about a dictionary sound interesting?!
Impressed, as always..."


Thanks, Anne!


message 15: by T (last edited Jun 20, 2015 05:04PM) (new)

T Moore Jason: Good review: This is a great one day-er non-fiction read.

It's a compelling human story wrapped around the great subject matter of the making of the incredible Oxford English Dictionary.


Winchester's best? Maybe.

Being California Bay Area born & bred and enjoying the subject of geography, I thoroughly enjoyed his "Crack at the Edge of World" too. I don't think, I caught him in a error. And I learned much that I did not know about my local history as well.

Have read 3 other books by him too.

He has a flowing "good story telling" style of writing and he does ham it up with his "British-ness" too - (that works for me)

I would never give his stuff 5 Stars though. 41/2 GR STARS for this reader.


Jason Koivu T wrote: "Jason: Good review: This is a great one day-er non-fiction read.

It's a compelling human story wrapped around the great subject matter of making of the incredible Oxford English Dictionary.

..."


Thanks. I too really enjoy his way of telling a true story.


back to top