... quirky and compelling ... [Flanders] is a meticulous historian with a taste for the offbeat; the story of alphabetical order suits her well ... As Flanders’s short but fascinating book shows, the alphabet has only ever been one listing method competing with many others: some weird, some wonderful, some completely mad and random, but each providing a tantalising glimpse into the minds that dreamt them up.
... fascinating ... Flanders, a meticulous scholar who has written books on Victorian London and the history of Christmas, prioritizes thoroughness, and at times her book can read a bit like the encyclopedias she writes about. The footnotes get some of the best lines ... Ultimately, A Place for Everything rewards us with a fresh take on our quest to stockpile knowledge. It feels particularly relevant now that search engines are rendering old ways of organizing information obsolete.
Flanders has a remarkable capacity to see nothing as inevitable. Even as she sifts meticulously through millennia of historical artefacts, Flanders asks the kind of rudimentary questions usually proposed only by small children: but why do we organise things A, B, C? Why not differently? ... Flanders retains a sense of fun ... Flanders finds contemporary resonance in humanity’s search for order.
One of the many fascinations of Judith Flanders’s book is that it reveals what a weird, unlikely creation the alphabet is ... Alphabetical order, however, had a much longer and more circuitous road to dominance. A Place for Everything tells this complex and layered story ... At times this account of the ordering of information feels a little too linearly ordered and exhaustively informative ... I began to think that an alphabetical arrangement by theme might have introduced some refreshing randomness, allowing for quirky connections and digressions. Buried in the book’s dutiful attention to detail, though, lies an intriguing history not just of alphabetical order but of the human need for both pattern and intellectual efficiency.
... a library and academic essential rather than a catchpenny popular read (that, by the way, is a compliment). Her 'curious history of alphabetical order' becomes a history of all writing, of libraries, of academe, of the way that, as knowledge and ideas develop, everyone — human, divine, the god Ganesh using his tusk as a pen — realises that for posterity’s sake things must be findable ... [a] huge whirlwind of odd and arcane information.
Flanders acknowledges that hers is a western-dominated narrative — and one that perhaps ends too quickly, jumping swiftly from 'I' to 'Y' in its own alphabetical chapter headings. Much of the digital age, which has revolutionised how we access and order information, is left untouched ... nonetheless a charming repository of idiosyncrasy, a love letter to literacy that rightly delights in alphabetisation’s exceptions as much as its rules. And while the alphabet may have lost its novelty since Balbi’s day, Flanders shows us that it hasn’t lost its charm.
... fascinating though relentlessly detailed ... Ms. Flanders has collected enough material on her subject to fill all the ingenious cabinets and filing devices found in the book’s illustrations. The plethora of detail often overwhelms the truly revelatory dimension of the work ... Ms. Flanders has taken on a huge, sprawling subject, one that is not at all straightforward. The quantity of detail she piles on the reader is overwhelming, comprising myriad instances of precursor arrangements, innovations, variations, and transitional modes of organizing and cross-referencing ... Many of these topics could be expanded into books of their own, but here they are all jammed into fewer than 350 pages. The incongruous result is a book about the orderly arrangement of information in whose pages information runs riot.
It might seem like a relatively dull subject, but the author’s prose is consistently engaging ... Fascinating character sketches further the story, among them vibrant portraits of Samuel Pepys, John Locke, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but we should all hail librarians as the unsung heroes of this history ... For readers who love language or armchair historians interested in the evolution of linguistics, this is catnip. For the mildly curious, it’s accessible, narratively adventurous, and surprisingly insightful about how the alphabet marks us all in some way ... A rich cultural and linguistic history.