A book writer may have thirty or forty books aiding his or her research and writing. I certainly do. Unless one has years before deadline, it is impossible for a writer to read each book cover to cover, for the purpose of gathering three or four quotes from each one. Instead, we rely on indexes, which too often are inadequate.
Right now I am pushing through The Desert Reader, edited by Peter Wild. It’s a collection of writings about the Southwest and it is an excellent book. But Wild has a different orientation than I do, consequently, his index is lacking for my work. He has excerpts from Peter Banham’s Scenes in American Deserts and the quotations I am interested in are on the creosote bush, the background plant of the desert Southwest.
Creosote is ubiquitous on the desert floor and it possesses no thorns. But its sharply oriented branches can puncture the sidewall of a truck tire and it is stiff enough to whip the paint off a passing vehicle. For these reasons and others I want to mention creosote in my book. But nowhere does creosote appear in its index. Instead, one has to read the entire book from cover to cover, or fast scan it, in the hope of finding something on point.
Years ago in writing a telephone history I quoted from the biography of an engineer who worked for fifty years for Motorola. He had invaluable, first hand insights on the development of that company. All 125+ pages were without an index. I am sure I was the first researcher to cite his publication because I eventually read the entire work. That book is and remains closed to the world of research without an index. The only hope is that someday its pages are scanned and made searchable by machine.
All of this is a long way of saying to keep to books with good indexes, lengthy ones, ones that will help keep your writing on track. A book with no index should not be considered unless it contains material so original and so unavailable elsewhere that a great effort is worthwhile. Books lacking an index are yet another unexpected bandit that robs us of our time.