The Surgeon of Crowthorne
The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words is a book by Simon Winchester that was first published in England in 1998. It was retitled The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary in the United States and Canada.
It tells the story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and one of its most prolific early contributors, Dr. W. C. Minor, a retired United States Army surgeon. Minor was, at the time, imprisoned in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, near the village of Crowthorne in Berkshire, England. The 'professor' of the American title is the chief editor of the OED during most of the project, Sir James Murray. Murray was a talented linguist and had other scholarly interests, and he had taught in schools and worked in banking. Faced with the enormous task of producing a comprehensive dictionary, with a quotation illustrating the uses of each meaning of each word, and with evidence for the earliest use of each, Murray had turned to an early form of crowdsourcing (a word not coined until the 21st century)—enlisting the help of dozens of amateur philologists as volunteer researchers.
A journalist with three decades of experience, and the author of a dozen travel-inspired books, Winchester's initial proposal to write a book about an obscure lexicographer met with rejection. Only when Harper Collins editor Larry Ashmead read the proposal and championed the book did Winchester pursue the necessary research in earnest. Of the project Ashmead said "we can make lexicography cool". It was Ashmead that persuaded Winchester to call the US edition The Professor and the Madman (over Winchester's objection that Murray was not a professor), saying "No one here knows what the hell a Crowthorne is."
The book was a major success. Winchester went on to write The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (2003) about the broader history of the OED.
The movie rights for the book were bought by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions in 1998. John Boorman wrote a script and was at one time tapped to direct, as was Luc Besson. In August 2016 it was announced that Farhad Safinia was to direct an adaptation, starring Gibson as Murray and Sean Penn as Minor.
- Mel Gussow (December 4, 2006). "The Strange Case of the Madman With a Quotation for Every Word". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2010.
- Simon Winchester (28 September 2010). "Larry Ashmead obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
- review: E.S. Turner, The Lexicographer in the Asylum, Times Literary Supplement, June 26. 1998
- review: R. Bernstein, Books of the Times: Searching for a Life, He Found the Language. New York Times, September 16, 1998
- List of reviews at complete review
- Nicola Christie (21 February 2005). "Sneak preview: It's a Wonderful Life". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- Zorianna Kit (December 13, 2000). "Icon, Par Refer To Boorman For 'madman' Helm". The Hollywood Reporter (republished by AllBusiness). Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- Tatiana Siegel (21 February 2005). "Mel Gibson, Sean Penn to Star in 'Professor and the Madman' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
- Winchester, Simon (1998). The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words (hardback ed.). UK: Viking. ISBN 0-670-87862-6.
- Winchester, Simon (1999). The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary (paperback ed.). UK: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-027128-7.
- Winchester, Simon (1998). The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (hardback ed.). US: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-017596-6.
- Winchester, Simon. Der Mann, der die Worter liebte (in German). ISBN 978-3-442-72643-1.
- Winchester, Simon. Le Fou et le Professeur (in French). ISBN 978-2-253-15082-4.
- AskOxford.com interview Winchester speaks about the book to John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED
- Booknotes interview with Winchester on The Professor and the Madman, November 8, 1998.