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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.
© Dennis Duncan 2021 (P) Penguin Audio 2021
Witty and wide-ranging...adventurous... as if academic research were as revved-up as a Formula One race
Exceptionally good ... I learned a huge amount from this wry, clever, diverting book
I loved this book - the story of the index turns out to be a true adventure
Charming ... Indexes are to books as menus are to meals: often the best bit
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
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!
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.
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