Friday, July 16, 2010

Answer: How to find a list of all an author's books

Questions like this ("find all the items of type X") are always pretty hard unless you know the set is a closed and well-known.  If you're looking for all the US National Parks, then it's pretty easy to find a complete list.  For prolific authors like Rheingold, even HE might not have an authoritative list of all the books he's written.

(This isn't as crazy as it sounds.  I've written an awful lot of scholarly articles--but I'm not sure that one or two haven't managed to slip off of my CV sometime during the last couple of years.)

In any case, how WOULD you find a complete listing of an author's works?

Alas, there's no single answer for something as complex as a complete listing of an author's published books  You're going to have to work for it.  Here's what I did...

1.  Check the author's website.  (In Rheingold's case, it's  As you'll quickly see when you visit, there's no immediately obvious listing of all his books there.  He shows "selected" publications only, which is common enough among well-published authors.  

2.  Check the author's Wikipedia entry.    Same story here--again, it's incomplete.

3.  Check WorldCat.  If you don't know about WorldCat, you probably should.  It's a metaindex of many (many!) of the world's libraries.  They aggregate the catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide, giving you the ability to search for things like "Books" by author "Rheingold, Howard."  Their Advanced Search interface is especially handy for searching and filtering by specific metadata such as Author, ISBN number, publication format (book, CD, DVD, language), type of publication (fiction, nonfiction, documentary.  And so on.  When I do my search on WorldCat for au:Rheingold, Howard (selecting on Books in English), I find "about 50" hits... but not all of them are really authored by Rheingold, we have to do a little quality control.  (More on this in a minute.)  

4. Check Amazon.  You probably know about Amazon, the huge online retailer and book supplier.  They also have a pretty complete listing of an author's works.  But since they're focused on book sales, they make no claims about how complete their listing is.    

5.  Look for book specific databases.  For example, many libraries provide access to "Contemporary Authors Online" (a database from Gale, a part of Cengage Learning).  This is a fairly complete listing of contemporary authors' works.  Another resource to consider would be the Books In Print database (noting that you can also search for books "out of print" and "forthcoming" as well.)  

6. Check the Library of Congress.  The "nation's library" is easily accessible through and you can search for books by author.   

7.  Check Google Books.  If you use Advanced Search on Google Books, you can search by Author, filtering by publication type (in this case, Books), and set the "number of results" to 100 (the max) in order to see all of the published books.  In Rheingold's case, Books finds 50 titles as well (although some are in non-English languages -- there's currently no way to filter by book language).  

One thing that's interesting here is that all of the resources have very different lists!  What the author lists as his books isn't the same list as what Wikipedia or WorldCat or Amazon or Google Books lists.  

So, how do we get to a decently authoritative list?  

Here's what I did.  I took each of the resources and put the list of books they gave me into a spreadsheet.  (For instance, you can have the LOC email you a list of all the hits they found, and you can ask WorldCat to create a single list of all your hits, which you can then cut-and-paste into your spreadsheet.)  

After a bit of mucking about to get all of the data into a spreadsheet where the first column is all titles, I just sort by title, then filter out duplicates.  

Turns out this didn't QUITE work, as there are some variant title names (and typos!) in the lists.  But it's not intractable to just go through and fix everything up by hand.  (We're talking about a single author's output, not all of the books published in English during the past decade, which would be a real data-cleaning problem.)  

Now, what REALLY made this search task interesting is that Howard Rheingold is one of those people who's on the verge of being a brand.  That's why some books have "Howard Rheingold" in the title (e.g., Whole Earth: World Wide Web, Buckminster Fuller, Wired, Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, the Well, Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold, by an outfit called Books, LLC.  I'm sure there's a completely plausible story behind this, but it makes determining an authoritative list a bit tricky.)  

Then there's the range of what Rheingold has done--is an audio cassette of an interview with Rheingold the same as a published work by him?  What about compendia (such as the Whole Earth Catalog) which are published multiple times in different editions?  

This is the kind of thing that professional librarian catalogers deal with on an everyday basis.  But for us who are just plain searching for a master list, makes you realize why the world isn't as simple as you might think on first blush.  

In any case, after collected the lists from the different resources, I'm happy to finally have a list that I believe is complete and accurate.  (For my working definition of a book written by or edited by Howard Rheingold.) 

Listed in alphabetical order:  

  Ace it!: use your computer to improve your grades
  Ars Electronica 2003: Code:The Language of our Time 
  Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind:A Book of Memes
  Exploring the world of lucid dreaming
  Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights
  Open 11: Hybrid Space
  Out of the Inner Circle a Hacker's Guide to Computer Security
  Silicon Valley Guide to Financial Success in Software
  Smart mobs : the next social revolution
  Talking Tech: A Conversational Guide to Science and Technology
  The Cognitive Connection: Thought and Language in Man and Machine
  The Millenium Whole Earth Catalog  (1994)
  The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools and Ideas for the Twenty-First Century
  The New Technology Coloring Book
  The Savage Report 1994, Jack Anderson Against Dr Tek 
  The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier 
  There's a Word for It They have a word for it : a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases  
  They have a word for it II : a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases (the Writer's Studio
  Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology
  Virtual Landscape/Howard Rheingold: New Technologies for the New Millennium 
  Virtual Reality - The Revolutionary Technology Of Computer Generated Artificial Worlds
          & How It Promises To Transform Society

  War of the gurus

That's quite an output over the past few decades.

And it makes my point really well--even "simple" search tasks often require some non-obvious work and manipulation to get to a reasonable solution.  Here, it was looking for multiple sources, then integrating the results.  Use the tools you've got (email, copy/paste from web page, spreadsheets..) to assemble a non-redundant list from multiple sources.  I can't think of any other way to do this.

Can you?

Search on!

1 comment:

  1. Good approach, great list! I wouldn't classify all of the works in this list as books. Ars Electronica looks like a catalogue from a digital art festival. Rheingold presented a paper. Similar for Open 11 - looks more like a journal.