A Place for Everything

The Curious History of Alphabetical Order


By Judith Flanders

Read by Julia Winwood

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 20, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From a New York Times-bestselling historian comes the story of how the alphabet ordered our world.
A Place for Everything is the first-ever history of alphabetization, from the Library of Alexandria to Wikipedia. The story of alphabetical order has been shaped by some of history's most compelling characters, such as industrious and enthusiastic early adopter Samuel Pepys and dedicated alphabet champion Denis Diderot. But though even George Washington was a proponent, many others stuck to older forms of classification — Yale listed its students by their family's social status until 1886. And yet, while the order of the alphabet now rules — libraries, phone books, reference books, even the order of entry for the teams at the Olympic Games — it has remained curiously invisible.
With abundant inquisitiveness and wry humor, historian Judith Flanders traces the triumph of alphabetical order and offers a compendium of Western knowledge, from A to Z.

A Times (UK) Best Book of 2020


  • "Fascinating... A Place for Everything rewards us with a fresh take on our quest to stockpile knowledge. It feels particularly relevant now that search engines are rendering old ways of organizing information obsolete...That we have acquired so much knowledge is astounding; that we have devised ways to find what we need to know quickly is what merits this original and impressive book."
    New York Times
  • "Fascinating . . . truly revelatory"
    Wall Street Journal
  • "One of the many fascinations of Judith Flanders's book is that it reveals what a weird, unlikely creation the alphabet is...an intriguing history not just of alphabetical order but of the human need for both pattern and intellectual efficiency."
  • "A charming repository of idiosyncrasy, a love letter to literacy that rightly delights in alphabetisation's exceptions as much as its rules."
    Financial Times
  • “This is an utterly charming book, packed with engrossing details.”
    The Times (UK)
  • "For readers who love language or armchair historians interested in the evolution of linguistics, this is catnip. For the mildly curious, it's accessible, narratively adventurous, and surprisingly insightful about how the alphabet marks us all in some way...A rich cultural and linguistic history."
  • "A Place for Everything presents itself as a history of alphabetical order, but in fact it is much more than that. Rather, as the title suggests, it offers something like a general history of the various ways humans have sorted and filed the world around them."
    The Spectator
  • "A library and academic essential rather than a catchpenny popular read (that, by the way, is a compliment)."
    The Times of London
  • "Quirky and compelling... [Flanders] is a meticulous historian with a taste for the offbeat; the story of alphabetical order suits her well."
    Dan Jones, Sunday Times (UK)
  • "Surprising and copiously researched."
    Times Literary Supplement
  • "Flanders is one of our outstanding popular historians.... [A Place for Everything] is an exemplar of the form on which it focuses."
    The Critic
  • "Judith Flanders has a knack for making odd subjects accessible."
  • “Flanders is especially good in discussing when and why alphabetical order was not used, or was resisted, even after it was available....The prose is engaging [and] the examples are to the point[.]”
    Jack Lynch, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America

On Sale
Oct 20, 2020
Page Count
368 pages
Hachette Audio

Judith Flanders

About the Author

Judith Flanders is a social historian. Her works include the bestselling The Invention of Murder, Inside the Victorian Home, and The Victorian City. She is senior research fellow at the University of Buckingham, as well as a frequent contributor to the Sunday Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal.

Learn more about this author