Publication Date: 06/10/2022 ISBN: 9780141989662 Category:

Index, A History of the

Dennis Duncan

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication Date: 06/10/2022 ISBN: 9780141989662 Category:
Paperback / Softback


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*A TIME, New Yorker, Financial Times and History Today Book of the Year*

‘Hilarious’ Sam Leith
‘I loved this book’ Susie Dent’
‘Witty and affectionate’ Lynne Truss

Perfect for book lovers, a delightful history of the wonders to be found in the humble book index

Most of us give little thought to the back of the book – it’s just where you go to look things up. But here, hiding in plain sight, is an unlikely realm of ambition and obsession, sparring and politicking, pleasure and play. Here we might find Butchers, to be avoided, or Cows that sh-te Fire, or even catch Calvin in his chamber with a Nonne. This is the secret world of the index: an unsung but extraordinary everyday tool, with an illustrious but little-known past. Here, for the first time, its story is told.

Charting its curious path from the monasteries and universities of thirteenth-century Europe to Silicon Valley in the twenty-first, Dennis Duncan reveals how the index has saved heretics from the stake, kept politicians from high office and made us all into the readers we are today. We follow it through German print shops and Enlightenment coffee houses, novelists’ living rooms and university laboratories, encountering emperors and popes, philosophers and prime ministers, poets, librarians and – of course – indexers along the way. Revealing its vast role in our evolving literary and intellectual culture, Duncan shows that, for all our anxieties about the Age of Search, we are all index-rakers at heart, and we have been for eight hundred years.

Publisher Review

Fascinating * Financial Times * Witty and wide-ranging...adventurous... as if academic research were as revved-up as a Formula One race -- Peter Conrad * Observer * Masterful * Prospect * Hilarious -- Sam Leith * UnHerd * Exceptionally good ... I learned a huge amount from this wry, clever, diverting book * Scotsman * Brilliant, fascinating...a binge-worthy book -- Greg Jenner I loved this book - the story of the index turns out to be a true adventure -- Susie Dent (on Twitter) Charming ... Indexes are to books as menus are to meals: often the best bit * Economist * Illuminating ... A seemingly niche and esoteric subject, the index becomes, in Duncan's hands, a minor miracle. Index, A History of the is not only about books, printing, and the necessity of consistent page-numbering ... but about the nature of reading and about how we understand, categorise, and engage with the world -- Kate Wiles * History Today * What a surprise to discover that the plain and humble index has such an intricate and rollicking history! Dennis Duncan gives us a learned grand tour from ancient times to the almost present in the design and uses - and cunning abuses - of what is still the most sophisticated search tool ever devised. Instruction, passim! Entertainment, idem! -- David Bellos * author of Is That a Fish in Your Ear? * Dennis Duncan has done a great service to all bibliophiles by writing this scholarly, witty and affectionate history. By rights "Books, love of" ought to have a page-long entry in the index. -- Lynne Truss * author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves * Entrancing ... Seldom is a short book so wide-ranging or so original in its subject. Every page has things I didn't know, or hardly realised I knew from a lifetime of looking things up. I want to stop people at random and tell them new facts I've found out. Master the use of the index and you have access to all knowledge. -- Christopher de Hamel * author of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts * Packed with easy wit and erudition ... Dennis Duncan gives us not only a history of the index, but an essay on human folly ... Some indexes, says Duncan, are miniature narratives, while others are literary performances, and he provides glorious examples of both. Indexes can also be a form of mockery or satire, and they make excellent objects of disdain ... A terrifically rewarding and timely book * The Oldie * Index, A History of the focuses on the ultimate paratext - the index, an ancient information organiser and search tool that is still invaluable in the age of social media ... Its possibilities fascinated writers including Lewis Carrol, JG Ballard and Vladamir Nabokov ... Duncan's brilliant work makes us realise that the back of the book can be as important as the front * The Lady * To me, a truly great history book is one that changes something in the way in which I see the world Dennis Duncan's Index, A History of the certainly achieved that. Who realised there was such a fascinating, funny and delightful history behind the humble index? -- Katja Hoyer * History Today - Books of the Year * Index, A History of the manages to be both a work of immense erudition and perfect Sunday afternoon reading -- Joseph Hone * History Today - Books of the Year * Smart, playful....Duncan has written such a generous book, attentive to the varieties of the reading experience -- Jennifer Szalai * New York Times * Gracefully learned, often witty and enlightening -- Ben Yagoda * Wall Street Journal * Dennis Duncan's history - from Socrates to software - along with Paula Clarke Bain's peerless index, is witty and personable throughout, and also serves as a sneak attack on the search engine. It's safe to say that you will never take an index for granted again -- Mary Norris, author of Between You & Me and Greek to Me Sparkles with geeky wit and shines with an infectious enthusiasm...Always erudite, frequently funny, and often surprising - a treat for lovers of the book qua book * Kirkus Reviews (starred review) * Backmatter has never enjoyed such a spotlight; sure to amuse bibliophiles and casual readers alike * Library Journal (starred review) * Duncan proves an amiable companion on what his subtitle aptly refers to as a 'bookish adventure'...[U]seful as an introduction to book history in general as well as indexes in particular -- James Waddell * Times Literary Supplement * An adventure, and 'bookish' in the most appealing sense.... From ancient Egypt to Silicon Valley, Duncan is an ideal tour guide: witty, engaging, knowledgeable and a fount of diverting anecdotes -- Steven Moore * Washington Post * A learned and playful study, by British academic Dennis Duncan, of a textual machinery so successful it's become almost invisible -- Brian Dillon * 4Columns * A decidedly fun history.... Dennis Duncan's enthusiasm for the subject matter shines through the many witticisms and illustrations as he shows how something so seemingly small has been so vital to western literature -- Erica Ezeifedi * BookRiot *

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