Appealingly titled ... I had never thought of the index as much more than a tool ... Duncan says, we usually turn to an index as a 'convenience' and 'timesaver.' It’s like a map ... If all of this sounds obvious and unobjectionable, Duncan’s smart, playful book will encourage you to think again. The straightforward utility of the index turns out to be what made it such a disruptive innovation in the first place ... Duncan writes...with an admirable clarity that also hints at the enormousness of his subject ... Duncan gives a surprisingly vivid explanation of how the two foundations of the contemporary index — alphabetical order and pagination — themselves had to be invented ... That Duncan brings...old, intricate disputes to life is a testament to his gifts as a writer — imaginative but also disciplined, elucidating dense, scholarly concepts with a light touch ... Index, A History of the is furnished not with one index but two ... The second was compiled by Paula Clarke Bain, a professional indexer. I don’t want to give anything away (words I never thought I’d use about an index), other than to say that its relationship to Duncan’s text is not just as a guide but also as a companion. Duncan has written such a generous book, attentive to the varieties of the reading experience, that it’s only fitting he gave Bain’s index some space to flourish, a chance to come into its own.
The cleverly punctuated title of Dennis Duncan’s book, Index, A History of the, should signal that this isn’t a dry account of a small cogwheel in the publishing machine. Instead, it is an engaging tale of the long search for the quickest way to find what you need in those big, information-rich things called books. It is indeed an adventure, and 'bookish' in the most appealing sense ... Duncan goes into fascinating detail about all this — page numbers get an entire chapter of their own — with digressions into curious byways of booklore and literature ... From ancient Egypt to Silicon Valley, Duncan is an ideal tour guide: witty, engaging, knowledgeable and a fount of diverting anecdotes. The book skews toward the literary, but anyone interested in the 2,200-year journey to quickly find what one needs in a book will be enlightened, and will never again take an index for granted. The well-designed book also includes nearly 40 illustrations. As might be expected, the index — created not by the author but by Paula Clarke Bain — is magnificent.
... erudite, eminently readable and wittily titled ... Fittingly, the book comes equipped with not one but two official indexes — one stellar, the other unabashedly less so — as well as a third and perhaps even a fourth ... In a book as elegantly devoted to literacy as Duncan’s, it would be pleasant if the grammatical infelicities that lightly pepper the text had been buffed away. This is — or should have been — the lookout of the copy editor, a crucial cog in the machinery that mediates between publisher and reader ... It might have made for a richer volume, too, if Duncan had included a treatment of index-making as a fundamentally cognitive enterprise — an idea he flirts with in discussions of indexing taxonomy but does not fully explore ... As for the index — or indexes — to Index, the primary one, by Paula Clarke Bain, is as rigorous as a nonfiction book’s should be, and as enchanting as the index to a book about indexes had better be. Teeming with gleeful, self-referential Easter eggs worthy of Borges or Lewis Carroll, it should be savored in full as dessert — or, if you are willing to be branded ignorant or dishonest, an aperitif ... There is, I think, a fourth index in play, and it, too, is covert. I confess that I discovered it in a flash of irritation, as I began to note dozens of examples of the kind of authorial harrumphing that quickly courts self-parody ... And yet ... Spun together, these declarations form an Ariadne’s thread through the Knossian labyrinth — a steganographic index all its own. (Steganography see writing: hidden.) As erected by Duncan, this set of thoughtful rhetorical signposts ushers the reader smoothly, even soothingly, along a fascinating, immensely pleasurable journey through previously uncharted terrain.