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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.