Headline, October 22 2021/ HISTORY : ''' '' BOOKS -INDEX- BONDS '' '''


-INDEX- BONDS '' '''

THE HISTORY OF BOOKS : ''THE KEYS TO ALL KNOWLEDGE''. Index. A History of the. 'By Dennis Duncan. Alan Lane.'

PRODUCING AN INDEX is like squeezing a ''grape in a winepress,'' wrote a 19th century French scholar,'' so that not even the tiniest drop of precious juice has been allowed to escape''.

Reading an index is more like wine-tasting. Take the smallest sip and you can guess the vintage.

Try this one : '' gluttony/ God/ grief'/ heaven'/ hell/ humanity/ Seneca / sin''. It's a heady combination : ambrosial and intellectual; sensual with a bitter aftertaste.

It is from St Augustine's ''Confessions''. Or try a slug of this : ''shame /shameless / shamrock''. That earthy flavor is from James Joyce. How about ''pie / poverty / power ' prison / pudding see ' Christmas Dinner'] pugilist''? Full-bodied, with a hint of festive spice : Dickens naturally.

Indexes are to books as menus are to meals : often the best bit.

The index should be prosaic - it, after all, a mere tool - but it can read like poetry. Even John Betjeman, a bard of Englishness, might struggle to match ''Abingdon / al- Qaeda / Angola / Ascot / Asda ''.

Indexes are a solution, but they are also a puzzle. Take that last one. It is from a biography of John Le Carre - and who wouldn't wonder, Smiley-like, how these entries all join up?

As Dennis Duncan's charming book shows, though today they suggest fusty libraries, indexes were once a novelty. A book seems such a simple structure that it feels less invented than self-evident, the innovations behind the hard to see.

Yet every chapter in its progress was slow, bound on either side by centuries of sluggishness.

Turnable pages didn't really arrive until the first century BC; the book form didn't take off properly until the fourth century AD. The separating of words with spaces didn't get going until the seventh -verylateforsomethingsouseful.

Finally things accelerated : first came the index, in the 13 century, then Guttenberg, then in 1470, the first printed page number. You can still see it in a book in the Bodleian Library.

People have struggled with the speed of literary production ever since. ''Is there anywhere on Earth exempt from these swarms of new books?'' grumbled Erasmus.

The index was both an aid and a problem of its own. ''Many people read only them,'' tutted the hard-to-please Erasmus.

An anxiety has always hung about them - that, while they enhance convenience, they threaten serendipity.

To claim to have read a book when you have only read the index is, said Jonathan Swift, like a traveller claiming to describe a palace when ''he had seen nothing but the privy''.

But indexes could and can be fun, Brevity is the soul of the wit, and what is briefer than an index?

Consider this takedown of a British politician : ''Aitken, Jonathan : admires risk-takers, 59; goes to jail, 60.''

At times they were astonishingly ambitious : the Victorians strove to produce a ''key to all knowledge''. Like railways, an author rhapsodised, indexes have ''cleared the way; they have levelled mountains and straightened the most torturous paths ..... what a time saver! .....  this is electricity!''

They are still saving time. Where Victorian keys to everything failed, Google has succeeded, says Mr. Duncan.

For what is the search engine but a giant electronic index?

Instantly - gluttony / God / shame / Angola ' Ascot / Aitken and all the rest. What a timesaver! What electricity! And yet it is hard not to feel, like Erasmus, that something has been lost.

The mountains have been levelled, the paths straightened. The serendipity has gone.

The Honor and Serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on History, Knowledge and Books, continues. The World Students Society thanks the review author at The Economist.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society, the exclusive ownership of every student in the world: wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

Good Night and God Bless

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