Published Feb 2020
While we emphasize our subconscious appreciation for the importance of the alphabet, it is alphabetic order, its organization, that allows us to sift through the centuries of thought, of knowledge, of poetry, literature, scientific discovery and discourse. Alphabetic order allows us to locate the information we need, and disseminate it further. Without alphabetic order, all the knowledge in the world would lie in great unsifted stacks of books, unfindable, unread, unknown.
A Place for Everything traces the beginnings of alphabetization, as we understand it, moving from the development of what was, in effect, a sixteenth-century proto-card catalogue, to a London bookseller who made a revolutionary breakthrough when he alphabetized his books, not by lumping all the ‘Thomases’ together (Thomas More, Thomas Smith, Thomas Elyot), but by ‘sirname’.
The alphabet itself was the invention of ancient days, yet alphabetic order was the organizing principle that ushered in, and made possible, the modern world. It may now be on its way out, as binary code replaces the need to know that O comes after N. It is long past time that this extraordinary development was celebrated.
Praise for Judith Flanders:
Magnificent… Wonderfully rich and witty.
Rich and well-ordered, this study casts brilliant light… Curious facts tumble from the pages.