|An excellent book|
My wife Cindy, who is an editor, hates indexing. She loves editing, page production using desktop publishing programs, and graphic design, but not indexing. She always bring up the example of a book she indexed once on globalization. The anthropologists used one set of terms, the political scientists another, and the historians a third set of terms. She had to negotiate this diversity and come up with usable index terms that would serve all readers. Maybe the reason I like indexing is that I have only indexed my own books. I like my books. They are brilliant, extremely well written, and full of nuggets of deep insight. Who wouldn't want to index such excellent volumes? Well, maybe an ego-maniac who believed such hype might not have patience for the work of indexing. I always ask Cindy if she wants to index my books, and she usually falls for it, getting worked up about how she hates indexing, before she realizes I am kidding.
|A lame index (to a lame-looking book)|
But me, I do like compiling the index. And now it is DONE, as is proofing, and I just have to wait for the book to appear. At Home with the Aztecs: An Archaeologist Uncovers their Deilyi Life."
Don't you hate lame indexes that don't have enough entries? Remember the old archaeology books from Academic Press? They had terrible indexes. Three pages for a 500-page book. Mostly useless. Why did they bother?
|An index with "After poop deck"|
But what about indexes that are too detailed, too full of entries? Are they a problem? Probably not. If you are a sailor and really want to see where the author talks about the after poop deck, then you need a detailed index.
I just received Peter Turchin's new book, "Ultra Society" in the mail. I like Peter's work, and I was interested to see his book. I've been thinking about social insect colonies lately, since they seem to share some scaling relationships with human settlements. Our settlement scaling group is planning to meet with some of the mathematical social insect folks in a few months to explore the issue. So I wondered if Peter Turchin (a biologist) might discuss insect cooperation in his book. I open it to the back, and find, to my horror, that there is NO INDEX! This isn't a detailed technical monograph (most of which don't have indexes), but a book intended for a popular audience. Then why no index?
I was really impressed with a Calculus textbook I had, both in high school then as a freshman at Brandeis University. Written by Michael Spivak, it was idiosyncratic and more fun than most calculus textbooks. I was intrigued by an entry in the index for "pig-headed." The page in question discussed some pig-headed ideas by a group of mathematicians. I remembered this a few years ago when indexing one of my books, so I looked up Spivak in Wikipedia, where it says:
"In each of Spivak's books there are hidden references to yellow pigs, an idea Spivak apparently came up with at a bar while drinking with David C. Kelly." I really wanted to verify this, but of course I don't still have my old calculus textbook. I do like the idea, however. I can say that I have never put "yellow pigs" in a book of mine, and "pig-headed" has not occurred in an index. But I cannot deny including one or two strange entries in my indexes. (Note to the staff of my publishers: please ignore that last sentence). But perhaps pig-headed would be a good keyword for a blog entry!