Index, A History of the
‘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.
*A Financial Times Book of the Year*
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 *
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