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 – 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.

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.