Books and indexes

Books need proper indexes if the reader is to be able to find his or her way around them. A letter published in The Spectator magazine on 21 October stated: ‘Someone once argued that publishing a non-fiction book without an index should be against the law’. That prompted Alistair Lexden to send the following letter which was published in the next issue of the magazine on 28 October.

Sir: It was the legendary Scottish judge and writer, Henry Cockburn, who declared that ‘the author of a book without an index should be shot’ (Letters, 21 October). There should be severe punishment,too, for those who give long lists of page numbers; a breakdown of entries is essential so that arresting comments can be located readily. The one novel with an index is Tolstoy’s Resurrection in an American translation. Evelyn Waugh loved it: ‘the first entry is “Adultery”; the last “Why do people punish?” ‘, he told Times readers on 16 October 1961 in a missive included in the recently publishedTimes Great Letters.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords