Does Anyone Actually Read the Index?

My eyeballs are beginning to chafe.  This week, I’m finishing up the index for my new book.  It’s a lot of work, even though I had a gifted grad student do most of the intellectual heavy lifting.

How the sausage gets made...

How the sausage gets made…

So now I’m wondering: Does anyone actually read the index?  I know professional academic historians do.  In fact, that’s one of the first cheap tricks we learn in our PhD programs.  We flip quickly to the back to see what we can glean from the index.  What are the book’s themes?  What are its main ideas?  Its blind spots?

But do any normal people read a book’s index?  Make no mistake, I’m compiling a kick-ass index, whether anyone ever reads it or not.  But I can’t help but wonder if readers will find useful my painstaking distinctions between “authoritarian teaching” and “traditional education.”

Coming soon...

Coming soon…

Will anyone care that I spent so many long hours in a stuffy library teasing out the nuances of “educational conservatism” as opposed to the broader category of “conservatism” in general?



Leave a comment


  1. No to all your questions above.

  2. Dan Mandell

     /  July 29, 2014

    The fact that you’re concerned about it shows that your primary audience is academics and other specialists, not “normal people.”

    • It also shows how out of touch I am, I guess. I thought readers might flip to an index to see if the book talked about key issues such as school prayer and evolution. I guess I spend too much time around historians…

      • willbell123

         /  July 29, 2014

        I’d imagine a lot of buyers are going to come across it via word of mouth, in which case they’ll hopefully have gleaned some of that from whoever told them about it.

  3. I generally search electronic versions of the text for particular references, even when I have the book at hand.

  4. Agellius

     /  July 29, 2014

    I can’t say that I always read the index, but when I do need it, I find a poor index (one that doesn’t list the name or topic that I’m looking for) extremely frustrating.

  5. Noah

     /  July 29, 2014

    There’s a fascinating meditation on indexes in the current edition of Cabinet by Sasha Archibald that discusses, among other things, an author put to death for a heretical index. Perhaps few of us take them seriously, but those who do take them very seriously, I guess.

  6. I don’t “read the index”. I do look up things in the index, and I’m disappointed if I find it is inadequate.

  7. I added a couple of entries that were intended as jokes in the index. So far no one has noticed, or at least told me they noticed.

  8. I must have an index, because I forget where I heard things from and I miss having a Ctrl+F function when I’m reading a physical book. The index is a more topic-specific Ctrl+F, and I appreciate it a lot even if I have to use it just once.

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