Category Archives: 100 best non-fiction

100 best non-fiction books – 18 to 25

Some catching up is called for in my survey of the indexes of these books. Some interesting points arise about use of capital letters and the sorting of subheadings.

Number 18 is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The current version available via Amazon has a tidy index, including names and subjects. Worthy of note are the subheadings, which depart from the usual alphabetical order, and are organised as they appear in the book.

Number 19 is The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson. This is a large book and the current version has a relatively short index, about 12 pages for a book over 900 pages long, which makes me wonder what has been left out. Many headings have lots of locators, which can make an index difficult to use. Also, all the headings start with a capital letter, even if the subject in the book doesn’t. This can be tricky on the eye for modern readers more accustomed to lower case letters.

Number 20 is The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. A more generous allowance for the index in this book, than the one above. Again, there are capital letters at the start of all the headings. The index doesn’t seem to suffer from excessive numbers of locators for each heading, but there are many run-on subheadings for some entries. As with The Feminine Mystique, the subheadings are in the order that they appear in the book, not in alphabetical order.

Number 21 is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S Kuhn. The 50th anniversary edition has an index that uses run-on subheadings that are in alphabetical order, and some of them suffer from excess locators, making it rather difficult to find things in this book.

Number 22 is A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis, and the index, if there is one, isn’t available on Amazon.

Number 23 is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, also without index visible.

Number 24 is The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith, and we’re back with an index to look at in this volume. Another slightly shouty index with capitals at the start of all entries. Run-on subheadings which are generally short, and in alphabetical order.

Number 25 is The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life by Richard Hoggart. The recent edition seems to have an updated index. It includes the names of people who probably weren’t born when this book was first published. It’s quite short for the size of the book. Capitals only for proper names, lower case for other entries. Very few (possibly unnecessary) subheadings, so some entries with lots of locators. Some cross-references that are unnecessary, and a double entry would have done – bird fancying has one locator, so canary-breeding see bird fancying could have duplicated the locator and not bothered with the cross-reference, and I might have checked if either or both should be hyphenated.

 

 

 

Advertisements

100 best non-fiction books – 13 to 17

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 quick look to see if there are indexes in any of them and what might be interesting about those indexes.

Number 13 is The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970) – alas no index in the current edition.

No 14 is Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn (1969) – the 2001 edition available on Amazon does have an index. Nice and straightforward, the titles of songs are in italic font. Some entries have too many locators – for example the “Beatles, The” entry has 50, some of which could have been merged as the band was mentioned over several pages, even if not continuously – for example 202-5, rather than individual entries for each page. It may be more ‘correct’ to index each page separately if there is information about other bands or things in between, but it might be easier for the reader if they are linked together, especially if a linking subheading could be found for them.

No 15 – The Double Helix by James D Watson (1968) – the 2001 edition visible on Amazon makes you do without I’m afraid.

No 16 – Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag (1966) – a collection of essays and without an index.

No 17 – Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965) – a collection of poems – again nothing visible on Amazon in either edition.

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.

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.

100 best non-fiction books – A Brief History of 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”. Here are my comments on the index in this week’s volume.

Steven Hawking’s book is the one that many have bought but (relatively) few have finished and gave its name to the ‘Hawking Index‘. A quick peep inside the book courtesy of Amazon shows that there is an index to help readers around the text. But note you’re looking at the 1988 version of the text, the current 2011 version may be different.

A few things to note:

  • A capital letter is used for every heading. While this is not ‘wrong’, it can make it hard for the reader’s eye to differentiate between people’s names, titles of things that usually have capitals, and other things. It might have been better to follow the usage in the book, for example ‘big bang’ on page 9 is lower case, not with an initial capital.
  • Subheadings are not used consistently, there are lots of cases of entries with long strings of locators and no subheadings and other entries that have very few locators that have subheadings. Rule of thumb is no more than about 5 or 6 entries at each heading or subheading so that the reader can easily remember them without having to go back to the index. There are cases when more is acceptable, often when space is limited, but really there should be enough space for all the subheadings required.
  • Plurals are not used where they should be. Entries for things that are countable are usually given in the plural form. This index has a heading ‘Star’ with a see also cross reference to ‘Neutron stars’. Much better to have plural for both.
  • Some of the cross references are unnecessary and would have been better as subheadings to the main heading they are referred from, for example the ‘Neutron stars’ example above. Neutron stars could remain as a heading in its own right.

A better index might have helped a few more people finish this book.

100 best non-fiction books – Birthday Letters

The letters in question are in fact poems by Ted Hughes. The current printing does not appear to include an index. You might think that poetry volumes don’t need one. However, some poetry books include indexes of first lines as these may be better known that the titles of the poems. The reader is therefore helped by having the titles at the front and the first lines at the back. The lines are usually given as they stand in the text. Here’s a quick sample from the poems, might they make you want to read the poems more than the titles alone?

Lucas my friend, one
Our magazine was merely an overture
Stupid with confidence, in the playclothes
What were those caryatids bearing?
Where was it, in the Strand?

100 best non-fiction books – Dreams from My Father

A quick place-holding blogette – Amazon/the publisher don’t let us look all the way inside this book so I’ll have to try and find a real hard copy in a library or book shop and check it out to see if there even is an index in it. Who knows, I might even end up reading it. The Guardian review suggests that the author is indeed a real human being, something the current candidates for his position could do well to remember.