Category Archives: Book prizes 2013

Costa Biography nominations 2013

Yet another shortlist of potentially award-winning books came out yesterday. The winner will be announced in January 2014. Here’s a useful pdf with a summary of what each is about and here are a few thoughts about the indexes if I can find them.

So half the books don’t have an index, and one was already an award-winner, I thought Hanns and Rudolf would get it, but The Pike won again.

SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award 2013

A late-comer to the annual book of the year awards was announced earlier this week. The (long) shortlist has 12 books on it, so I’m taking a very quick peak inside of each to look at the index (or lack thereof) in each. Why am I bothering? Because, as a member of the Society of Indexers, I believe that every non-fiction book needs an index  – unless the book is likely to be read once and then discarded, an index is essential and a non-fiction book without an index causes its readers considerable frustration. So, sadly, some of the publishers of these books think they are as disposable as a tissue, which is a shame given the effort that must have gone into writing them.

On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul. Ned Boulting. Yellow Jersey. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon, but I suspect it probably doesn’t have an index. Which is a shame. I have read this book on Kindle and it contains information about a wide range of unknown or forgotten people who have been the backbone of grassroots cycling in the UK.

Racing Hard, 20 Tumultuous Years in Cycling. William Fotheringham. Faber and Faber. Replete with index, lots of names and races mentioned, but suffers a bit from undifferentiated strings of locators for some of the key characters – Lance Armstrong, Dave Brailsford etc. who appear throughout the book.

Cycling Anthology II, Tour de France centenary edition. Lionel Birnie and Ellis Bacon. Peloton Publishing. Doesn’t have an index, which was a conscious decision on the part of the editors. You can take a look at my free index for volume III and see the kind of thing it is missing.

Easy Rider: My Life on a Bike. Rob Hayles. Bantam Press. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon.

Domestique. The True life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro. Charlie Wegelius. Ebury Press. No trace of an index. But was the eventual award winner, gaining the highest number of public votes

Hunger. Sean Kelly. Peloton Publishing. Not much sign of an index.

Mountain Higher: Europe’s Extreme, Undiscovered and Unforgettable Cycling Climbs. Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding. Quercus. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon. However an earlier volume on the same topic did have an index, so just maybe there is an index.

Sean Yates: It’s All About the Bike. Sean Yates. Bantam Press. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon. Other Bantam publications have indexes so maybe there is one.

The Race Against Time: Obree, Boardman and the Quest to be the Fastest Man on Two Wheels. Edward Pickering. Bantam Press. Got an index, with a lot of subheadings for each of Boardman and Obree, but some of the other people mentioned suffer from undifferentiated locators, i.e. the entries for Indurain and LeMond.

Project Rainbow: How British Cycling Reached the Top of the World. Rod Ellingworth. Faber and Faber. No look inside available for the printed version.

Mapping Le Tour de France. Ellis Bacon. Collins. Long index of entries covering each time a place was in the Tour de France with a separate subheading. However, lots of undifferentiated locators for the participants, so you can’t cross reference by using the index to find out for example, when a particular rider went through a particular place. That might have made the index a lot longer but chapeau to whoever compiled it anyway.

Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team. Tim Lewis. Yellow Jersey. No index in this book I’m afraid.

The public voted for Domestique, so congratulations to Charlie, but shame it didn’t have an index.

If you’ve writing a book about cycling and you’d like to talk about including an index, please get in touch by using the contact tab above.

Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2013

The prize is given for science books written for a non-specialist audience, and the winner, Sean Carroll for his book about the Higgs particle, was announced on 25th November.

  • Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury) – what it is like to be a bird! The indexer to this volume has done some additional work by finding and adding the Latin names of the birds mentioned in the text, and they have also indexed the notes section. They have also grappled with the singular and plural issue identified in the book about bees in the Samuel Johnson Prize. However, the additional work of adding the Latin names doesn’t always make sense when the information about the birds is limited – for example they have added the Latin names for both the greater and lesser flamingos that appear on page 204, but the information on page 204 doesn’t distinguish between them and only briefly mentions them. But perhaps the editor or author asked for all the Latin names and who is to question what the piper wants?
  • The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll (One World) – the search for the Higgs particle. A professional-looking index where the indexer has added cross-references from abbreviations (which abound) and not used double entry to give the locators in both places, for example ‘Compact Muon Solenoid see CMS’. References to illustrations appear in italics.
  • Cells to Civilisations by Enrico Coen (Princeton University Press) – about how evolution works. Another professional-looking index. The subheadings are in run-on format, which can make them difficult to read and find information within when there are lots of subheadings – for example see the entry for ‘learning’. There are double entries for the common and scientific names of plants and animals. The scientific name is also given next to the common name and these seem to appear in the text so there was no extra work for the indexer to find them out.
  • Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough (Profile Books) – about how memory works. Another nice-looking index. Set-out subheadings which makes it easier to use than run-on subheadings, and as with the preceding book, this index does sometimes have a lot of subheadings under a main heading. There is a separator letter to distinguish each section of the index. This can be helpful so the eye can easily find the start of each section. Film and book titles are given in italics, the books are filed only by their author, although they could have been double entered by the book titles or character names. For example, a discussion of how literature and films treat memory mentions Harry Potter novels and the film Avatar, the former are indexed under Rowling, J.K. with subheadings for both book titles, the film Avatar is indexed under Avatar. The filing of the heading ‘St Gall Abbey, Switzerland’ places it at the start of the S sequence, probably because the indexer has sorted it as though it were spelt out in full as ‘Saint Gall’, however another possibility would be to file it in word-by-word order before ‘stimuli’.
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (Granta) – no view inside available
  • Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) – how our seas are changing. Another detailed index with some classification. For example, all of the fish mentioned in the book are gathered up as subheadings under the heading ‘fish’ and they do not have their own separate main entries unless there are too many locators, i.e. ‘sharks’, and the birds, seaweed and shellfish, etc, are treated in the same way. This can be a useful way of checking the breadth of coverage of a book without having to find each heading individually. There are see also cross-references between trawling, dredging and fishing, which methods of catching fish each have many subheadings.

FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year 2013

I had high hopes for this list, with a prize of £30K awarded on 18 November. The award should go to ‘the book that is judged to have provided the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues’, so current affairs that readers really might want to refer back to in the near or perhaps distant future. My comments on the indexes in the shortlisted books follow:

  • The Alchemists: Inside the secret world of central bankers by Neil Irwin (Headline publishing) – a professional-looking index, done in what I think of as the US style with all the headings starting with a capital letter, which works OK in this context, but can lead to terms looking more important than they actually are. Some nice cross-referencing going on – ‘Employment losses’ directs to ‘Unemployment’, ‘Super Mario Brothers’ directs to ‘Draghi, Mario; Monti, Mario’.
  • Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cuckier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – another professional-looking index. Not many examples of undifferentiated locators, so perhaps the entries that had them couldn’t be given subheadings. Some use of double entry to make it easier to locate information, for example ‘marine navigation’ has a main entry, and also a subheading under ‘Maury, Matthew Fontaine’ and all the subheadings under ‘correlation analysis’ also appear as main headings.
  • The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan – print book not available to look inside on Amazon.
  • The Everything Store by Brad Stone – sadly for a book about Amazon you couldn’t see the print book when I first wrote this blog in November 2013. By late January 2014 the ‘look inside’ version was available and you can see a detailed index, quite heavy on names of people, brands and products and with some undifferentiated locators for some of the subheadings. But at least the feature has been enabled.
  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen) – Some examples of undifferentiated locators, for example ‘Facebook’ gathers 30. Sandberg works for Facebook, so it was obviously going to feature in the book. But without subheadings the browsing reader can’t see what she’s written about it. This is odd, given that some headings accrued masses of subheadings for a relatively small number of locators overall, for example ‘parenting’ where 14 subheadings have been teased out and three of them cover aspects of ‘stay-at-home’. So the indexing is a little uneven, although it may reflect the contents of the book.
  • Making it Happen by Iain Martin – print book not available to look inside on Amazon.

Something of a shame that there are only 3 available to ‘see inside’ on Amazon. The winner was the book about Amazon by Brad Stone.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2013

As the year hurtles towards Christmas the book awards continue to be decided.

Here’s the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013, and some of my comments and thoughts about the indexes.

  • The Boys In The Boat: An Epic True-Life Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin by Daniel James Brown (Macmillan) –  it tells the story of Joe Rantz, who grows up in obscurity during the Great Depression only to triumph over adversity as one of the US rowing crew that won
    gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The index has a lot of names of people and places. But the most noticeable feature is a lot of undifferentiated locators, which makes it difficult to know which bit of the book you might want to look at. For example, Adolf Hitler gets 31 locators, spread throughout the book, some subheadings would have definitely helped there to work out what the book could tell you about Hitler. Also, where subheadings do occur, the undifferentiated locators continue; the entry for George Yeoman Pocock has four subheadings, but each has a mass of locators, 28 for his work as a boatbuilder, surely that could have been broken down. I’ve seen in history books that up to about 10 locators is ‘allowed’, so perhaps this could have been broken down further to make it easier for the reader to use. Under the heading ‘rowing (crew)’ there are a lot of subheadings which require detailed knowledge of rowing terms to make any sense of, so for the general reader they are useless because they don’t have explanations attached to them. The indexer may have assumed a deeper knowledge of rowing than many general readers may have.
  • The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete by David Epstein (Yellow Jersey Press) The nature vs nurture debate discussed with reference to sports and athletics. A tidier index, without vast numbers of undifferentiated locators. Lots of useful subheadings, but not all of the subheadings have merited main headings of their own. The range of locators covered by most of the subheadings is usually included in the main heading. This is a little unusual, but can be helpful to direct the reader to the general place where the information appears, and tells them the overall extent of it.
  • Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld by Ed Hawkins (Bloomsbury) – about India’s illegal bookmaking and match fixing ‘industry’. Shockingly appears not to have an index at all. There’s a glossary of key names and terms, but otherwise dear readers you are on your own.
  • I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović by Zlatan Ibrahimović, David Lagercrantz and Ruth Urbom (Penguin) – Amazon only have the e-book version available to see inside. So I can’t see if there is one. [edit] A quick visit to Waterstones shows that this book does not have an index at all!
  • Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang by Jamie Reid (Racing Post)I assume it is about what it says on the tin. It looks like the index had to be squashed into a limited space due to space restrictions. It is printed in three columns per page of quite tiny print compared to the text of the book. The subheadings are in run-on format, which is another clue to space being an issue for this index. There are lots of undifferentiated locators, even when there are subheadings, which makes it difficult to decide which page to head towards.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh (Simon & Schuster) Amazon only have the e-book version available to see inside. So I can’t see if there is one. Slightly disappointed there as I quite like reading about cycling. [edit] A quick visit to Waterstones shows that this book does not have an index at all!

I am rather disappointed that three of these potentially award-winning books do not have indexes and one got a rather squashed effort, leaving only two with acceptable indexes. This probably tells us a lot about what the publishers think of the readers of the books without indexes. They probably think that the readers will read them once, and not return to them to refer back to favourite passages. Which is a shame, considering that the additional cost of an index for these books would be modest compared to the publicity costs of the books and the prize money awarded to the winner.

The winner was Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang by Jamie Reid, so congratulations to them. At least there was an index.

Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction 2013

This annual award declares itself to be the ‘UK’s most prestigious non-fiction award’. From a  shortlist of six titles, the winner, The Pike, was announced on 4 November. I thought I’d take a look at the indexes in these potentially award-winning books to see if I can learn anything from them.

The six titles on this year’s shortlist are listed below, I’ve linked them to Amazon so we can ‘see inside’ and I’ve put some comments and thoughts I had about the index. The comments are mine and do not represent views of the Society of Indexers or any other member of the society. An indexer’s favourite term is ‘it depends’ and while the training equips us with ‘best practice’ sometimes it is necessary to head off into the rough and go with whatever the editor or author wants or that you think required to get the job done.

  • Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WW1’s War Graves, David Crane (William Collins) – the man in question is called Fabian Ware, and as you’d expect there’s a lot of personal names, place names and names of the various organisations that were involved in the creation of the war graves. But there are some features of this index which go against skills I’ve recently acquired. There are quite a few entries with strings of undifferentiated locators – see for example ‘British Empire’ which has collected 17. This could have been broken down with subheadings to make it easier for the reader to find the information they were looking for. However, we don’t know if space was at a premium for the index and some compromises had to be made to get all the locators in somehow. Slightly confusingly the indexer has also grouped together a place and a nationality, see for example ‘Australia, Australians’ and which collected 11 locators, and I’m not sure what I might find if I followed them. Index headings should be clear so that the user knows what they will find if they follow the locators. The use of subheadings when they did appear was also a bit strange, I couldn’t understand why some of the headings for people are accompanied by very specific subheadings, while other people end up with strings of undifferentiated locators. Perhaps the more significant people get subheadings and the less significant don’t, but who is to say who is more important? The reader is the user of the index and should be allowed to choose. However, maybe space was the issue here. Under the heading ‘London’ there are several subheadings, but these subheadings do not appear as entries in their own right, for example ‘British Museum’ has a subheading but not a main entry, so if I’d gone looking for ‘British Museum’ under B I won’t have found it and might have assumed it wasn’t in the book if I hadn’t also looked under London. If something is important enough for a subheading it ought to be important enough for a main heading as well. There is some slight use of cross-references, for example see also is used to point the reader towards several organisations responsible for cemeteries and graves. However, an index doesn’t always need a lot of cross-references and this might be enough for this title.
  • Return of a King, William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury). This is a book I’ve bought because my nephew has done two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the British Army, but I haven’t finished reading it yet. The book is long and dense with lots of names, which makes it quite a demanding read. Christopher Phipps, who is a member of the Society of Indexers, is mentioned in the acknowledgements. The index is also long and the layout is possibly the worst part about it as it is in tiny print and has a lot of run-on subheadings which make it difficult to read through. This may have been necessary for reasons of economy. The index is almost exclusively personal and place names, with some events thrown in for good measure. Some of the entries have strings of up to about 12 of locators, so perhaps for some reason it was necessary to go beyond the typical 6 locators before breaking them down into subheadings, or they were somehow deemed to be more minor players, as some entries with fewer than 12 locators did get subheadings. The reader will also seek in vain in the index for information about topics such as ‘harems’ or ‘camp followers’ which you might expect could be discussed or mentioned in the book. However, that might be a function of the size of the book and the available index space, not necessarily an omission by the indexer. Quite a lot of see cross references from alternative forms of names to the heading the indexer used may be useful for readers.
  • A Sting In The Tale, Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape) A natural history book about bees. A lot of undifferentiated locators are the first thing to meet the eye in this index. The ‘buff-tailed bumble bee’ nets 43 locators scattered throughout the book, obviously very important as it is a common bee, but it would have been nice to have known more about what was in the book from the use of subheadings. Slightly oddly, the headings mostly appear in the singular, when we usually use plurals. When I sought advice from colleagues about the use of singular and plural headings some thought it might be better if all species names were singular (whether bees or not), and the less specific names would have been plural, for example  ‘buff-tailed bumble bee’ and ‘badgers’. An opposing view thought it might be better to have all the names of animals, plants etc. in the singular as this was a book for the general reader. To get around issues of double entry and repeating locators for scientific and common names there is a separate appendix for the names of British bumblebees. Other indexers might have approached this differently and used double entries with the other name in brackets after the entry, for example ‘Bombus terrestris (buff-tailed bumble bee)’ and/or ‘buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris)’; a third approach would be to group all the bumble bees together under a heading with subheadings for the different types and if space allowed have double entries as well. Other headings outside the animal world were in the singular i.e. ‘dinosaur’, ‘garden’ and  ‘landmark’, and these look wrong in any context. This was definitely an index where the decisions made by the indexer were thought-provoking and a lot of alternatives could be suggested.
  • Under Another Sky, Charlotte Higgins (Jonathan Cape) – sadly, no ‘look inside’ available on Amazon and a tiny glimpse on the Guardian’s site. However, I have been to the library and borrowed a copy. So, there is indeed an index, of names and places, some of which suffer from a surfeit of undifferentiated locators (see Tacitus with 29 and then three subheadings for his books). Some of the names don’t appear where academic best practice might expect to find them, although that may have been intentional on the part of the editor. All the entries start with capital letters, so even if there are any themes, they’re hiding in the names somewhere, and you will look in vain for mentions of scientific archaeological techniques such as oxygen isotope analysis, or types of sites such as forts, towns and roads, although each is indexed under its ‘name’ i.e. Vindolanda, Verulamium and Stane Street. The cross-referencing is also a little inconsistent i.e. ‘Venta Icenorum  29, 30’ but ‘Venta Silurum see Caerwent’, why not ‘Venta Icenorum see Caister St Edmund’? As the book is targeted at the general reader it might have been considered that a detailed index wasn’t necessary, but in fact, a better index would serve more ‘general readers’ because they could be coming in from almost any point of view.
  • The Pike, Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4th Estate) – “the story of Gabriele D’Annunzio: poet, daredevil – and Fascist” and another mighty tome and suitably mighty index. The entries for the subject of the book run over three and a half pages of two column layout. As with ‘Return of a King‘ the subheadings appear not in alphabetical order but in order of first appearance in the text, which can be confusing – ‘baldness’ appears as a subheading over a column after the locators for ‘appearance and dress’, and is not double entered. The index includes personal and place names, and the titles of the poems D’Annunzio wrote. Some of the personal names suffer having undifferentiated strings of locators and others seem to have subheadings for almost every mention made of them. Perhaps we are seeing the more important characters with detailed subheadings and the minor characters having to put up with being undifferentiated. But who is to say who is worthy of this differentiation? If one were interested in the minor character and was seeking information perhaps one would like to see more detailed subheadings? Titles of poems, operas and other publications are in italics which is a useful way to pick them out. There are some see cross references between entries for people known by more than one name and poems known by their English title rather than the Italian title. There’s also plenty of explanatory text in the headings, for example when place names change both are given or where it clarifies what the entry is about, for example ‘Trier (caricaturist)’, so not about the place.
  • Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not for Turning, Charles Moore (Allen Lane). The longest book in the short list by several hundreds of pages, and accompanied by an equally extensive index, over 30 pages of triple column layout. The indexers, Christopher Phipps and Marian Aird, are named in the acknowledgements. Both are members of the Society of Indexers so the index could be a model of how a huge biography of an important historical figure should be indexed. There are occasional strings of undifferentiated locators, where the ‘no more than about 6’ rule has been stretched to about 10 or 11, as with some of the other indexes above, in this book see the entry for the ‘Guardian’. There’s lots of useful additional explanations included against the headings. They have included things like changes of name through marriage, titles given later on, even when the person only has one appearance in the book, which could prove a useful reference point for future indexers. Sometimes there’s double entry and sometimes a see cross reference, for example ‘MLR: see Minimum Lending Rate’, and only one set of locators but ‘Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)’ and ‘JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee)’ both get all the locators, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps through lack of space the reader will not find an entry under ‘handbags’ as a main heading, but it is hiding under Thatcher, Margaret, Character & characteristics.