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

Version: Unabridged
Author: Simon Winchester
Narrator: Simon Winchester
Genres: Biography & Memoir, Language
Publisher: HarperAudio
Published In: October 2005
# of Units: 6 CDs
Length: 7 hours, 30 minutes
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The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary, 70 years in the making, was an intellectually heroic feat with a twist worthy of the greatest mystery fiction: one of its most valuable contributors was a criminally insane American physician, locked up in an English asylum for murder. British stage actor Simon Jones leads us through this uncommon meeting of minds (the other belonging to self-educated dictionary editor James Murray) at full gallop. Ultimately, it's hard to say which is more remarkable: the facts of this amazingly well-researched story, or the sound of author Simon Winchester's erudite prose. Jones's reading smoothly transports listeners to the 19th century, reminding us why so many brilliant people obsessively set out to catalogue the English language. This unabridged version contains an interview between Winchester and John Simpson, editor of the Oxford dictionary. (Running time: 6.5 hours, 6 cassettes) --Lou Schuler --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Reviews (6)

Outstanding Audio Book

Written by Albert from Annapolis, MD on September 11th, 2012

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Reading brings us into contact with times, places, and events that are otherwise inaccessible to us. This is the special gift from the story of the professor and the madman. The detailed research and descriptions made the times and events real to us. We enjoyed learning about the development of the Oxford English Dictionary. The story was a vehicle that kept us interested. The characters were fully 3-dimensional. Well done all around!

More interesting than I expected

Written by Tustin, CA from Santa Ana, CA on January 5th, 2010

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I did not expect to like this, but the details of the work that went into compiling the dictionary and all the politics involved were compelling. I can see why others might find it stuffy, but I really enjoyed it. Probably best enjoyed by a work lover.


Written by Anonymous from Hemet, CA on October 27th, 2009

  • Book Rating: 2/5

I tried to get through this because my mother recommended it. I listened to about half of it, but I just didn't care about the topic and the stuffiness of it irritated me. I don't really enjoy literature in the classical style, but I can see how someone else might enjoy this book as it is very beautifully written.

Very interesting!

Written by Stacey Soibelman on January 2nd, 2008

  • Book Rating: 4/5

As a person who loves words, this book was a plesant suprise. It was facinating and very detailed. The building of the first dictionary is something you realize that someone had to do but I never considered the stories behind the pulling together of the Oxford Dictionary. Excellent story.

The Professor and the Madman

Written by Anonymous on July 15th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 5/5

I loved this book. It is filled with details about the Oxford English Dictionary that you would not enjoy in a dry, academic book. If you like words and language, this is a book for you.

Professor and the Madman -A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Written by Robert Morrow from Dundas, ON on January 2nd, 2006

  • Book Rating: 2/5

If you enjoy excessive and somewhat stuffy verbage, you'll like this. Though the story is interesting, it could have been an article in Readers Digest. Perhaps the abridged version would be better. The author is in love with his writing and lets it show. He did a lot of research, some valid, some obscure, all of which he used in the book making it about 12 chapters too long. The audio version is well read by a stuffy Englishman also and, naturally, the subject matter suits the voice. PS: As an Englishman myself I feel wholly justified in critizing, once again, a nation that takes all of its history way too seriously.

Author Details

Author Details

Winchester, Simon

"Simon Winchester is the author of the bestsellers The Map That Changed the World, The Professor and The Madman, and Krakatoa. He was a foreign correspondent for The Guardian and The Sunday Times and was based in Belfast, New Delhi, New York, London and Hong Kong. Winchester has written for Conde Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. He lives in Massachusetts, New York, and the Western Isles of Scotland."