Monthly Archives: April 2016

100 best non-fiction books – Awakenings

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”.

Number 11 was a book of poetry, North, by Seamus Heaney which didn’t have an index in it’s Amazon incarnation. Poetry books can have indexes of titles and first lines, however this doesn’t appear to have had that treatment.

Number 12 is Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, the account of how, as a doctor in the late 1960s, he revived patients who had been neurologically ‘frozen’ by sleeping sickness.

This book has a traditional style index in run-out layout that is hard to find anything to say anything critical about. There are a few instances of entries having lots of locators. It might be a bit on the light side at 7 pages for 400 pages of text, but for a general interest text that might be enough. And I’d like to know what he says about Judy Dench, but unfortunately the Amazon version doesn’t allow a search, so perhaps I’ll have to find a copy and see.

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100 best non-fiction books – The Selfish Gene

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”.

Number 11 is The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Some things to look at in this index:

  • The introductory note explains that the index can be used to look up references in the bibliography as well as in the book, the numbers in brackets refer to the bibliography. So – acquired characteristics  23 (139). That could be useful.
  • The introductory note also says that common terms are not indexed every time they appear, and so they shouldn’t, but only in special places such as where they are defined. For example the term ‘allele’ has only one page number and a reference to the bibliography, but occurs in several other sections of the book. I’d have to read a bit to see if that means there are too few page numbers in the index.
  • Most of the terms are not plurals. It can be tricky sometimes to consider if a term should be singular or plural nouns in an index. The rule of thumb is if it can be counted it should be plural, but if you say ‘how much’ then it is singular. The index should be consistent and the indexer should be aware of the context of the words to decide if a singular form is more appropriate than a plural. The index is consistent, so for example the types of animal mentioned in this index are singular.

The book has a relatively short index, only 7 pages for over 300 pages of text. The publisher may have decided that this was not to be a reference book and the lightness of the index reflects that.

 

 

 

100 best non-fiction books – catch up time

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”.

A bumper set of three to look at this week:

9) Michael Herr – Dispatches – no index to check.

8) Edward Said – Orientalism – Lots to look at in this index.

  • Titles of works of literature, music etc in italic  to draw the eye to them
  • Titles also include name of author in brackets to clarify exactly which version the book refers to. Might not be entirely necessary but can be useful to readers
  • Some entries have too many locators, somewhere around 5 to 7 is the ideal maximum, too many and readers can’t remember them. It may also indicate too many minor mentions.
  • Run-on subheadings may be the publisher’s preferences but too many can make them hard to read.
  • Use of cross-references to guide reader. The author refers to Lord Cromer in the text, rather than Evelyn Baring, so the index uses a see cross-reference from “Baring, Evelyn” to “Cromer, Evelyn Baring, Lord”. A further refinement might have been to use the full form of address as “Cromer, Evelyn Baring, Earl of” but full forms of address are sometimes a step too far.

A good example of an index where the indexer and publisher had many choices to make, and other decisions could have made a different, but just as valid, index.

7) Tom Wolfe – The Right Stuff – No index so far as I can see.