The Professor and the Madman Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Professor and the Madman

"The Professor and the Madman" deals with the lives of two men who came together through their work on the Oxford English Dictionary: James Murray, the professor, who was the first editor of the dictionary, and Dr. William Chester Minor, the madman, who was a contributor of material.
Click here to see the rest of this review

Winchester describes how James Murray chose to use lay readers to help compile the information for the dictionary based on their reading. They would search out words and send him slips with the lexicographical information on them. He would compose the entries based on that information. One of the readers who contributed nearly 10,000 words to the project was Dr. William Chester Minor. Murray never had any contact with him except through the mail. Then, in 1896, he set out to meet his contributor and discovered that he was an insane murderer imprisoned in Broadmoor, an asylum.
Winchester spends a large part of the book describing the details of Minot's murder of a man on his way home from work, his earlier life in America where he worked as a doctor during the Civil War, as well as his work on the dictionary. Winchester's book is primarily concerned with describing the unusual relationship between two such different men.

The review of this Book prepared by Jack Goodstein

The Professor and the Madman is about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The book describes the process of contribution that helped make the dictionary possible. The major focuses of the story are James Murray and Dr. W.C. Minor. Murray (the professor) develops an interest in Minor because he has contributed more than ten thousand entries to the dictionary. The story and history take an odd twist when Murray discovers that Minor is currently residing at an asylum for the crimnally insane.
The review of this Book prepared by Kristy Pastore

Chapter Analysis of The Professor and the Madman

Click on a plot link to find similar books!

Plot & Themes

job/profession:    -   writer Job/profession/poverty story    -   Yes Which institution    -   mental hospital Life in an institution    -   Yes Period of greatest activity?    -   1600-1899

Subject of Biography

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   writer    -   teacher/professor Ethnicity    -   White Nationality    -   British Unusual characteristics:    -   Mentally Ill


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   2 () Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK Century:    -   19th century

Writing Style

If this is a kid's book:    -   Age 16-Adult Pictures/Illustrations?    -   None    -   More 6-10 B&W How much dialogue in bio?    -   significantly more descript than dialog    -   little dialog How much of bio focuses on most famous period of life?    -   51%-75% of book

Books with storylines, themes & endings like The Professor and the Madman

Simon Winchester Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
2 Ways to Search!

Our Chief Librarian