For 2016 Author Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the 100 best non-fiction books. These are “key texts in English that have shaped our literary culture and made us who we are”, in the Anglo-American English language tradition, the list covers “essential works of philosophy, drama, history, science and popular culture”.
Indexers love lists too, usually of words to put into indexes. So I thought I’d run a parallel list and take a look, where possible, inside the books at the indexes.
- The paperback runs to over 400 pages, the index is 8 pages. Going by the 5% rule of thumb, this might be a bit light for the length of book.
- There are lots of names of people, brands and organisations, but not many concept entries. This may reflect the content of the book, but I doubt it. For example, there could be a case for collecting up examples of infringement of workers’ rights under a heading for ‘workers’ rights’ that includes pregnancy testing, sweatshops, wages, unions, etc. which are scattered as sub-headings under the different company names.
- The index also uses separate sub-entries for many of the entries which could have been rolled up to the main heading because there are fewer than about 5 or 6. For example, the entry for Adidas has five sub-entries and none at the main heading. You could ask whether the sub-entries add anything when deciding whether to include them or not.
- There are also entries with many more than 5 or 6 locators which probably could have been split down usefully into sub-entries. For example, the entry for Ken Saro-Wiwa has 10 locators. Without the breakdown we don’t know what the book says about his life and death.
- Use of cross references could have been improved by using double entries rather than see cross references in some cases. It is nice if the space allows to duplicate the locators rather than use a see, particularly when the letters fall far apart in the alphabet. For example, under ‘branding’ there’s a sub-entry for ‘independent’ that sends the reader to ‘indie brands’, and when you get there, there’s only one locator. The see reference is unnecessary.
So, not bad, but could be better.