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.

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