Few of us consider the order of the alphabet for long after we first learn it as children. Yet it is alphabetic order, its role in organization, that allows us to access centuries of thought, of knowledge, of poetry, literature, scientific discovery and discourse. Alphabetical order allows us to locate the information we need, and disseminate it further. Without alphabetical 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 is an ancient invention, yet alphabetical 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' last book:
‘Flanders is a respected social historian, best known for studies on Victorian life, and the strength of this warm book lies in its quiet erudition.’ - The Times
'Judith Flanders . . . likes Christmas (I think), but she loves reality and its awkward, amusing facts. (A previous book of hers, Inside the Victorian Home, is deep, bright and encompassing.) - New York Times
'This informative and entertaining history is an absolute delight.' - Woman & Home