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Indexes

It was Mr. Duncan, my elementary-school librarian, who first impressed the importance of a good index into my malleable young brain: A nonfiction book without an index, he said, wasn't even worth putting on the library shelf. If you've ever searched an index in vain for something that you're sure is somewhere in a book, you know the value of a good index.

The problem is that sitting down and indexing a book is—in my experience—the most painful, horrible, mind-numbing activity you could ever wish on your worst enemy. And yet, where this is the kind of task that a computer should be great at, it's actually impossible for a computer to do a good job of indexing a book by itself. A good index requires careful thought, an understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to keep the whole project in your head at all times. Plus, until recently, it required a large stack of notecards, highlighter pens, and Post-It notes.


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