Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Month: February, 2012

973: Ten Tea Parties by Joseph Cummins

973.3115: Cummins, Joseph. Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests that History Forgot. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012. 214 pp. ISBN 978-1-59474-560-7. 

You could fill whole libraries with book in DDC section 973, because that’s where you class books on the “general history of the United States.” The first subsections of 973 are devoted to initial discovery, colonization, and revolution (973.1, 973.2, and 973.3, respectively), but the remainder of the section gets divided into distinct historical periods using presidential administrations as milestones. 973.4 covers Washington through Jefferson, 973.5 is Madison through Tyler, 973.6 is Polk through Buchanan, and so on (Lincoln’s tenure gets his subsection at 973.7).

The book I chose for 973 has a uniquely specific call number: 973.3115. 973.3 is the place for books on the revolution, 973.311 deals with individual political causes of the revolution, 973.3115 is the specific British tax on tea imports.

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394: A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

394.12: Standage, Tom. A History of the World in 6 Glasses. New York: Walker & Company, 2006. 274 pp. ISBN 0-8027-1552-4.

Books on food and drink would normally fall into 641, as it is an extension of technology used in home and family management (a stretch, I know, but it is what it is). This book, however, is a look at sociology and how it was affected by the introduction of various beverages. The social science are in the 300s, and this now falls into the 390s—Customs, etiquette, and folklore. This book, being about the general customs and social history of beverages falls into 394 (General customs). Enjoy.


Tom Standage, in A History of the World in 6 Glasses, tries to present a human historical timeline that can be divided into distinct epochs that each centered on a different beverage. The first is beer. Beer was made by fermenting wheat, barley, or some other grain in water with naturally airborne yeast. It seems to be first man-made beverage (regular water at the time was typically polluted with human or other animal waste), coming into vogue between 10,000 and 7,000 BCE. It was used as a social drink and as payment for a day’s work. Sumerian accountants kept very careful logs of who got beer, how much they got, and when they got it. (On a side note, it is rather sad that accounting created some of the first records, and not the arts)

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540: The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson

540.92: Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead, 2008. 240 pp. ISBN 978-1-59448-401-8.

This one is simple enough: 500s are science; 540 is chemistry. A biography of a general chemist easily falls at 540.92.


Joseph Priestley was one of the brightest men of his generation. Having a natural affinity for at-home science (called natural philosophy is those days), he tinkered and experimented at every available moment. Steven Johnson’s Invention of Air chronicles Priestley’s life at it intersects the revolutions of both the American colonies and the French monarchy as well as the birth of the modern scientific method.

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829: Beowulf

829.3: Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. London: Faber and Faber, 1999. 99 pp. ISBN 0-571-20342-6.

British literature makes up the 820s in the Dewey, but most of it is reserved for literature written in Modern English. When you encounter literature originally written in Old English (or Old Anglo-Saxon), then it goes into 829. Since there’s not really many works from that age, each poet or author gets their own special billing. Works on Beowulf or by the Beowulf poet (nobody knows the poet’s name) have exclusive rights to 829.3.


This book is a translation of the 3,000 line poem written sometime between the seventh and tenth century CE. The author does not have a name as often referred to as “the Beowulf poet”. There have been numerous translations. I’m pretty sure that if you’re an Old English scholar, you have to produce a translation as a rite of passage.

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696: Flushed by W. Hodding Carter

696.109: Carter, W. Hodding. Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization. New York: Atria, 2007. 238 pp. ISBN 978-0-7434-7409-2.

Try to imagine the universe of books written about utilities (or just plumbing). It’s a pretty small universe. Most of these works are study manuals for HVAC trainees and guides for DIY home pipe-fitters. But, the Dewey in its infinite wisdom gives utilities its own section—696. Appropriately, it’s in the 600s (applied science, otherwise known as technology), then the 690s (Buildings). After reading this book, however, perhaps utilities deserve a little more recognition.


After spending a week trying to fix the plumbing in his crawl-space basement, W. Hodding Carter (known as “Hodding” to his friends, apparently) gets hypnotized by the beauty of plumbing. So, he embarks on a quest to find out all there is to know about plumbing.

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493: The Linguist and the Emperor by Daniel Meyerson

493.1092: Meyerson, Daniel. The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion’s Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone. New York: Ballantine, 2005. 267 pp. ISBN 0-345-45067-1.

Sadly, non-European languages are consigned to the Dewey dustbin. If a work’s not about English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, or Greek, then it gets stuck in the 490s. Egyptian languages (and more specifically, hieroglyphics) get placed in 493—Non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic languages. Since this is about the biography of the person who deciphered the writing systems of ancient Egyptians, we get 493.1 (for Egyptian writing systems) + 092 (biography).

[It occurs to me that maybe I haven’t been including enough details about the plot of the books I’ve been reading, so with the below review (and those to follow), I will try to give a lot more information about the texts. Let me know if I’m boring anyone.]


Meyerson’s Linguist and the Emperor follows the historically separate lives of Napoleon Bonaparte (famed ruler of post-Revolution France) and Jean Francois Champollion, the eventual decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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940: Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks

940.548641: Marks, Leo. Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker’s War, 1941-1945. New York: Touchstone, 2000. 600 pp. ISBN 978-0-684-86780-9.

Because World War II was so expansive (it wouldn’t be called a world war if it wasn’t), it cannot be confined to one section of country-specific history. Since 940 includes general works on the history of Europe, all works on WWII are placed here. 940.5 is anything after 1918; .54 is military history of WWII; .548 is other military topics; .5486 is unconventional warfare of the Allies; and finally .548641 means specifically in Great Britain. It was a big war.

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