Monthly Archives: May 2014

St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award 2014

Digging a trench through the rich strata of annual non-fiction book prizes I stumbled upon the St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award. The prize is awarded yearly to the best new intelligence book.  The recipient this year was:

  • Classified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain, by Christopher Moran, published by Cambridge University Press. The index has the many names of the people who appear in the book, and places and countries and various scandals. However, there are great long strings of locators next to some of the headings, for example ‘Bletchley Park’ gets 15 so we don’t know if it talks about code-breaking the computers or the staff. Then ‘Brook, Norman’ gets 20, I don’t know who he was or what he did but might stand a chance if there were some subheadings. On the next page I spotted ‘Churchill, Winston’ who had accrued 54 locators scattered throughout 300 pages, plus some subheadings for his writings. From reading the index, whatever secrets are in this book are not revealed by the index.

Also nominated for the prize were:

  • The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake by Roger Hermiston, published by Aurum Press. Another index in set-out layout, with a few subheadings, but again it suffers from long strings of locators. By way of example I offer ‘KGB’ for which I counted 38 locators scattered throughout the book. As this is a sort of biography or personal history the reader might have expected the lengthy entry about the subject to be entered in the order in which they occurred to the subject, however they appear in alphabetical order in which ‘divorce’ appears before ‘marriages’.
  • SIGINT: The Secret History of Signals Intelligence 1914-45 by Peter Matthews, published by the History Press. This index starts with ‘Arbwehr’ which has 25 locators. Consisting of only two pages out of 250 I suspect it is also rather skimpy. The rule of thumb is 5% which would give us 12 pages of index if it had met that target. Indexes can be longer or shorter, but as this one has many examples of long lists of locators it could have been teased out into several more pages if the subheadings had been formed correctly.

So, three books on intelligence and secrets which keep their secrets close to their chests courtesy of three unprofessional indexes. This is a shame as each of these titles has been worked on hard and long by their authors.



Books that don’t have indexes frustrate readers

Over on Twitter it’s possible to find readers, mostly students, complaining that their books don’t have indexes. Having twice been a student I know it is hard to research essay topics, or write a thesis,  if books don’t have indexes. So I thought I’d ask a few of them which books they have found and see if they have anything in common. Here are some of the books they have mentioned:

Actually, I don’t think they have anything in common except the lack of an index.  Some of these publications date from before the internet and e-books were ever thought of, some have been released in the last few years. Some come from language traditions which don’t usually have an index. All have ended up on a reading list or have been sought out by the students as necessary reading for their courses or research. All I can say to authors and editors is, please, spare a thought for future readers and students. Readers in the future can’t count on an electronic version being available, so it surely makes sense to include a back-of-the-book index. For more on the differences between free text searching and indexes, see this useful page.

Society for Theatre Research – Book Prize 2013

The Society for Theatre Research drew up this shortlist from books published in 2013 and the prize was awarded in May 2014. With titles from two specialist theatre-publishers, a main-line publisher with a drama list, an overseas academic publisher, and a small independent press, and from historical overviews to personal memoir, technique of performance and esoteric study, the short list conveniently demonstrated the range of books submitted for the prize. So what of the indexes?

The National Theatre Story  by Daniel Rosenthal (Oberon) was the winner of the prize. Amazon could not furnish a Look Inside so I can’t comment on this book, yet.

The Other National Theatre: 350 Years of Shows in Drury Lane by Robert Whelan (Jacob Tonson).

  • There is an index, there are lots of names of people, such as actors, playwrights and their financial backers.
  • There are very few ‘subjects’ other than these. I might have hoped for something about ‘musicals’, or ‘female authors’ or ‘comic opera’ or ‘pantomimes’, but they aren’t there.
  • As a reader you’d have to know who wrote which play as the plays are not entered separately, only by their author. However, there are some entries for modern musicals such as My Fair Lady, but no entry for Lerner and Loewe.
  • There are some long strings of locators against some of the names, which are then followed by some subheadings with only one or two locators. More effort could have been made to analyse the main heading locators and create more or better subheadings.
  • The earls and dukes of Bedford get their own main heading, with the various earls and dukes listed in the order in which they appear in the book. There is no cross-reference from ‘Russell’, so you’d have to know where to look for these chaps.
  • The layout is almost set-out but there is no indent when the lines turnover to indicate that this is the same heading, which makes reading the entries a little tricky.
  • There are few cross-references, and the entry for ‘women on the stage’ has only one locator, yet there several for Nell Gwynne and no cross-reference.
  • So it’s a big book, but the index doesn’t really help you see what it is about. At over 500 pages of text, an index of only 10 pages is too skimpy by far, as a rule of thumb, 5% should make a reasonable index length, so I’d hope for at least 25 pages for this one, maybe more. Perhaps they were constrained by the printer, but it was definitely detrimental to the book to have such a short index.

Speaking the Speech  by Giles Block (Nick Hern Books). Alas, no Look Inside.

Stage Blood  by Michael Blakemore (Faber & Faber). Kindle only today.

Wooden Os: Shakspeare’s Theatres and England’s Trees  by Vin Nardizzi (University of Toronto Press)

Without the Look Inside indexes on Amazon how are they ever going to sell these volumes?

Thwaites Wainwright prize – indexes in the shortlisted books

Publishers Frances Lincoln, in association with the National Trust, were delighted to announce that the inaugural winning title of the 2014 Thwaites Wainwright Prize for UK Nature and Travel Writing, worth £5,000, was THE GREEN ROAD INTO THE TREES: A WALK THROUGH ENGLAND by HUGH THOMSON, published by Windmill, Random House, but how did the index in this book and those of the other shortlisted books shape up?

The Green Road into the Trees: A Walk through England by Hugh Thomson (Windmill, Random House). There is an index, lots of place names and people, and some other subject headings. My first impression was that it was messy and odd looking. There are many capital letters at the start of headings, where lower case letters should have been used. There are some subheadings in set-out format, and some of the main headings suffer from strings of locators followed by a few subheadings with one or two locators, so not analysed and broken down. The terminology is also a little odd with lots of prepositions which makes it sometimes a little tricky to follow what the heading actually means. The indexer has also not quite got to grips with the proper use of ‘see’ and ‘see also’ cross-references. ‘See‘ cross-references point the user from a heading to a preferred main heading if two or more terms are found to describe the same thing. If there are few locators then they can just be duplicated to save the reader turning pages. They got confused with how to cope with the author ‘George Orwell’, his real name ‘Eric Blair’ and the names of his wife ‘Eileen’, who appears to have only one locator, but has three headings devoted to her, two of which are ‘see‘ cross-references to the one locator. There is also a splendid circular cross-reference ‘Archaeologists, See minicab drivers’ and ‘minicab drivers  245. See archaeologists’. The book probably deserved a better index than this.

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane (Penguin Books). Has an unusual index in that the entries are categorised under 23 headings. Some of the headings have long strings of locators, particularly in the ‘names’ and ‘rocks’ sections. These could have been broken down further to help the readers. There are some slightly odd uses of cross-references, for example a ‘see also (above)‘ and a ‘see also (below)‘ to point the reader within a section to other headings. Everything you want is probably in there, but you have to think about what it is before you go looking for it.

Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins (Jonathan Cape) I’ve looked at this index before.

Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham (Granta). Kindle only Look Inside available on Amazon.

Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary by Esther Woolfson (Granta). Kindle only Look Inside available on Amazon.

Walking Home by Simon Armitage (Faber). No index!

Orwell Prize 2014 – indexes in the shortlisted books

The Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, we award prizes for the work which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’. Or so it says on the website. So what about the indexes that accompany these interesting books?

Coolie Woman by Gaiutra Bahadur. In 1903 a Brahmin woman sailed from India to Guyana as a ‘coolie’, the name the British gave to the million indentured labourers they recruited for sugar plantations worldwide after slavery ended.

  • The index contains lots of names of people, places and some things such as ships, and some topics. The names of the women are interesting in themselves because they only have one name, and do not have a typical ‘surname, forename’ entry.
  • It is, however,  ‘over-worked’ in that it gives additional explanatory information alongside many headings which have one or few locators. There are also many headings with subheadings giving the same locators as the one or two main heading locators. This is not necessary if there are only one or two locators, as the reader is not going to be much troubled by referring to one or two places if it is the named person they are seeking.
  • There are no ‘see’ or ‘see also’ cross-references, which may not be a bad thing as it could mean everything was double entered under multiple headings. However, there are some headings that are packed with lots of subheadings which could have been teased out into main headings, for example, the heading for ‘British Guiana’ has the names of lots of plantations mixed with other subheadings. The plantations do not appear as main headings in their own right, which many of them could have done, and there is no cross-reference from the ‘plantations’ entry. So finding information about ‘plantations’ is not as easy as it could be.
  • All of the place names for towns in India are tucked away under the country name, which is tricky to use in the run-on layout.
  • Some of the terms used as main headings are also a little odd. For example the main heading ‘child’ is followed by many subheadings including ‘brides’, ‘illegitimacy’, ‘laborers’, ‘mixed-race’ and ‘mortality’. It might have been better to have one heading starting ‘child’ and another for ‘children’ to split the words that are associated with ‘child’ from those to do with children as a group.
  • There’s a lot that could be done to make this index better.

The Tragedy of Liberation by Frank Dikötter. In 1949 Mao Zedong hoisted the red flag over Beijing’s Forbidden City. Instead of liberating the country, the communists destroyed the old order and replaced it with a repressive system that would dominate every aspect of Chinese life.

  • There is an index, it is in set-out format, with the subheadings one under the other, not run-on format, which is often easier to follow.
  • There are many place and personal names. For the personal names there are some clusters of the more popular ones, for example there are 10 ‘Li’ names. As there are relatively few ‘surnames’ in Chinese, this is not unexpected. For more on indexing Chinese surnames see Chinese Personal Names.
  • Some entries suffer from a surfeit of locators, for example ‘famine’ has eight, and although the locators pop up elsewhere as subheadings, the main headings aren’t also used as subheadings to divide up the eight locators, which might have been useful, or other subheadings could have been selected once all of the ‘famine’ entries had been reviewed.
  • Where subheadings are used, the main headings sometimes also keep long strings of locators, for example ‘suicides’ where nine locators remain at the main heading and there are five subheadings.
  • There are a few cross-references, but some, such as ‘films see cinema’ were unnecessary as the preferred term had only a few locators and it would not have taken up much room to repeat them. The few see also cross-references appear useful.

The World’s Most Dangerous Place: Inside the Outlaw State of Somalia by James Fergusson. Award-winning journalist James Fergusson is among the few to have witnessed at first hand the devastating reality of life in the failed and desperate state of Somalia.

  • The indexer has not been named so far as I can see in the ‘Look Inside’ text, but they were certainly someone who knows what to do. This index is laid out in set-out format, so is easy to follow. There are no strings of locators, there are no main headings with ‘left over’ locators followed by subheadings, where ranges of locators occur at main headings the subheadings split the range into smaller chunks. Where subheadings are used more than once or as main headings the locators match. The cross-references are good.

This Boy by Alan Johnson. Alan Johnson’s childhood was not so much difficult as unusual, particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary.

  • There is an index, mostly names and places, but it has a few problems. Some long strings of locators appear, for example ‘Carter, Jimmy’ has 11. Strings of locators appear at main headings and are followed by subheadings with few locators. These are not helpful and the main heading locators should be found suitable subheadings, for example ‘Sloane Grammar School’.
  • The indexer has sorted the subheading entries for Alan and his family by date, as might often be found in an autobiography, but the run-on layout makes them difficult to follow.

Not for Turning by Charles Moore. I have discussed this excellent index here.

The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration by David Goodhart did not have a Look Inside available on Amazon.

Wellcome Book Prize 2014 – indexes in the shortlisted books

Regular readers will know I sometimes look at the indexes of books that appear on prize short lists. Of course, I can’t read all the books to see how accurate they are, but you can get quite a good view of the index from taking a close look at how it is laid out and how the main and subheadings are dealt with. The Wellcome prize is given for  books with a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. It can include fiction, but I’ve only reviewed the non-fiction books. Of course I think it’s a shame that the indexes are included in the criteria for selecting the short-listed books.

Last week Andrew Solomon was announced as the winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2014 for his book Far from the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love. Published by Vintage, it’s a monumental tome that apparently took a decade to write. I bet he’s pleased as he’s won £30,000. The index starts on page 907 and runs for 51 pages of double column layout. Not a bad job, but it could have been better. There are some headings that could have used a further breakdown and there appear to be many headings with a string of locators followed by a number of subheadings and their locators. My software encourages me to get rid of these by suggesting that that there are too many locators at one heading or, in the second case by asking if I’m sure that I want those locators at the main heading. It, is of course, OK to have locators at the main heading, but they shouldn’t be the left-over ones. There are also some headings which have been over-analysed and given subheadings where there are so few locators it does not seem worthwhile to include them.

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, published by Picador, has an index that also could have been better. Again it suffers from long strings of locators for some headings, both with and without subheadings. There are cases of see references being used where double entry would not have used up more lines, for example “cannabis (marijuana) with 5 locators” and “marijuana see cannabis”.

Creation by Adam Rutherford, published by Penguin, has an index which seems to have been scrambled on Amazon because the book can be read from both ends. The index again has long strings of locators at the main entry and a few at the subheading – see the entry for DNA on page 128 for example, this surely could have been broken down into more subheadings.

Wounded by Emily Mayhew, published by Vintage. This index is laid out in run-on style, which can be annoying and makes it harder for readers to find the subheadings they want. Otherwise, it looks good, without long strings of locators at main headings. Minor criticisms would be see entries where double entry would not have increased the number of lines used i.e. radiography see X-rays, where there are only 2 locators.

Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise, published by Vintage,  was on the shortlist, but I can’t see the index at Amazon currently. This review in The Guardian newspaper says it has 23 pages of index, which for a book that length is close to the ‘average’ of 5% of a books length that is a rule of thumb for index length.