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The Devil's Details

The Devil's Details

A History of Footnotes

Footnotes have not had it easy. Their dominance of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century literature and scholarship was both hard-won -- following many years of struggle -- and doomed, as it led to belittlement in the twentieth century. In The Devil's Details, Chuck Zerby playfully explores footnotes' long and illustrious history and makes a clarion call to save them from the new world of the Internet and hypertext.
In a story that boasts a marvelous plot and a rogues' gallery of players, Zerby examines traditional footnotes and their less-buttoned-down incarnations, as when used by pornographers. Yes, The Devil's Details is full of surprises: Zerby hunts down the first bona fide fully functioning footnote; unearths a multivolume history of Northumberland County, England, that uses one volume for a single footnote; and uncovers a murder plot. He even explains why footnotes are like blind dates.
Carefully researched and highly opinionated, The Devil's Details affirms that delight in reading can come from unexpected places.
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 160 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743241755 | 
  • March 2003
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Endangered Footnote

The need for an adequate book on footnotes is obvious. One of the earliest and most ingenious inventions of humankind, the footnote has been for centuries an indispensable tool of the scholar and a source of endlessly varied delight for the layperson. The lack until now of a substantial and appropriately annotated study of its nature, its history, its friends and enemies can only be ascribed to complacency. Annotators and literary connoisseurs simply have assumed too easily the continuing survival of this important adjunct to the printing press.

Such complacency is no longer possible. Gone is the... see more

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