Dewey Decimal System? You Bet We Do!

The Dewey Decimal System is a library indexing method developed in the 19th century by Melvil Dewey. You know the one--a three digit number followed by a decimal sign, some more numbers and possibly a few letters. The first digit sorts the books broadly into categories: Generalities (0XY), Philosophy and Psychology (1XY), Religion (2XY), Social Sciences (3XY), Language (4XY), Natural Sciences & Mathematics (5XY), Technology (6XY), The Arts (7XY), Literature & Rhetoric (8XY), and Geography & History (9XY).

Of course there are deeper levels to this rabbit warren. Each of those classes is subdivided and then divided some more. This attempt to classify all knowledge is, of course, flawed. However, it gives me an idea: read your way 'round the library!

I made a foray to the nearby branch of the Alexandria public library last weekend to assess the plausibility. I checked out the following volumes:

  1. Library: an Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles. DDC = 02W.XYZ
  2. The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, by Jacob Bronowski. DDC = 12W.XYZ
  3. The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions, by Bruce Metzger. DDC = 22W.XYZ
  4. People and Politics: an Introduction to Political Science, by Herbert Winter and Thomas Bellows. DDC = 32W.XYZ
  5. The Story of English, by Mario Pei. DDC = 42W.XYZ
  6. The Astronomer's Universe: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmos, by Herbert Friedman. DDC = 52W.XYZ
  7. The Tower and the Bridge, by David Ballington. DDC = 62W.XYZ
  8. Elements of the Art of Architecture, by William Muschenheim. DDC = 72W.XYZ
  9. A History of English Literature, by William Neilson and Ashley Thorndike. DDC = 82W.XYZ
  10. The Borgias, by Ivan Cloulas. DDC = 92W.XYZ

Now, be it known: finding books that represent the classes is not necessarily straightforward. For one thing, I decided that I might want to do more than just the ten books. I might want to do the full century. Another: the library's holdings are limited, and not all librarians classify the same book in the same way; some books can be shelved as multiple classifications. They didn't even have Life of Samuel Johnson, which I really wanted to get for the 92W.XYZ classification, as 92W.XYZ is the clearest opportunity for biography--and I've never read it! Last: if you are willing to specialize a bit, you need to remember that the different subclasses aren't necessarily analogous maps into the classes.

Anticipating that I might decide to do the full hundred, or at least give it a real shot,I chose to arbitrarily go with the W2.XYZ call number, but one could chose others, or not worry about the division.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Also, I read Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, recently: pretty good. I'm reading Thinking in Time: the Uses of History by Decision Makers, by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May: really pretty neat.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What fun to be able to choose for yourself again. I have been reading fiction again and enjoying it after several years of only non-fiction. I like the personal challenge you have set for yourself. Ben Franklin would have appreciated it too!

Gramma Carrie Ann

Anonymous said...

This is rad. I will take the bait and join in (though I reserve the right to cut and run should the non-fiction load prove too much for me). I will get myself to a library that uses Dewey (rather than LCC) and compose a list, stat.


Anonymous said...

OK, here is my tentative list (I chose without regard for subcategories):
025: The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey
121: The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination by Jacob Bronowski (copycat!)
297: Standing Alone in Mecca by Asra Nomani
364: News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
401: Language and Thought by Noam Chomsky
511: Everything and More: A Compact History of [Infinity] by David Foster Wallace
623: Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller
781: Mexican American Mojo by Anthony Macias
891: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam translated by Edward Fitzgerald
92X: Gonzo by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour

Tom said...


susan said...

Goodness, that is quite the list. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

You guys are making me nervous! It seemed reasonable, with its lack of textbooks.