I am provoked to this post by Mr. Alex Beam of The Boston Globe who has raised the question of footnotes in non-fiction books. Are they, in the words of Sellars & Yeatman "A Good Thing" or "A Bad Thing"? He quotes one 'Master' on the subject:
“Having to read footnotes,” Noel Coward once said, “resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.”
He has a point but of course you can always ignore them although I must admit that when I see that little number printed at the end of a line curiosity gets the better of me and I just have to have a quick look. Actually, these days they are not usually 'footnotes' but long lists of references at the back of the book. I wish they would go back to the old way of printing them at the foot of the page in which the reference is made. Apart from anything else, it would save me using two bookmarks which I constantly lose.
I am still plodding slowly and dutifully through The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan, not, I hasten to say, because it is hard going; it is beautifully written and if ever a history book deserves the appellation 'magisterial', this is it. Each chaper is like a book on its own! Her 'footnotes' are simply references to the sources she has used but that's useful because where she says something especially interesting, or something that is new to me (quite a lot of that, actually!), then it is easy to go from her 'footnotes' to the source list of books and authors she has mined, thus, at a stroke, she has added at least another half dozen volumes to my 'Must Be Read Sometime' list and I haven't even got halfway through yet!
However, whilst on the subject of history books, particularly military history books, I have lost count of the number of times obscenities and flecks of spittle have showered across various rooms, including cafes and other public places, when I turn to the map to orientate myself as to what is going on and find that either there is no map at all or, even worse, there is a map but it fails to mention the particular location which is referred to in the text - grrrrrrrh!