Give me your best book of taxonomies.
March 30, 2008 10:09 PM   Subscribe

So I enjoy books that are an elaboration on theoretical taxonomies such as Roget's International Thesaurus (not the dictionary style) and A Pattern Language. What other books or websites might I enjoy in this vein? Taxonomies on birds or plants are interesting, but I'm looking for things that aren't immediately obvious.
posted by bigmusic to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
A bit more visual, but: Handbook of Regular Patterns and Dictionary of Symbols are fun.
posted by xil at 10:12 PM on March 30, 2008

The Order of Things: How Everything in the World Is Organized into Hierarchies, Structures, and Pecking Orders by Barbara Ann Kipfer (who just happens to be the editor of the Roget's International Thesaurus you linked to) lists hundreds of taxonomies.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:17 PM on March 30, 2008

You want to be in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, you do.

You could start with John Wilkins' Essay towards a Real Character, which inspired the Borges story on pseudo-taxonomies. You could take a trip to the Encyclopedie, the Pinel Nosographie, and its modern incarnation, the DSM-IV. (And you can read up on what's going to be in the DSM-V.)

Though there's always Rock Family Trees.
posted by holgate at 10:32 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

On the Ask Edward Tufte discussion board, there’s a an interesting, long-running thread on the art of constructing lists, which has some overlap with how to organize knowledge.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:55 PM on March 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Kind of out there, but you might be interested in reading about philosophical languages, which are artificial languages with hierarchically organized lexicons. Umberto Eco gives a good overview of these in The Search for the Perfect Language, but there's an astonishing amount of material online that you can also peruse. For example: You may also be interested in reading about WordNet, a massive database of words in the English language. It's used extensively in cognitive and computational linguistics.
posted by aparrish at 11:24 PM on March 30, 2008

You would probably like "Life a users's manual" by George Perec. Perec was a great fan of the kind of things you are talking about - but also a great story teller (who else could get away with writing a credible novel that never user the letter E once).

The Meaning of Liff is Douglas Adams taxonomy of made up words based on British place names.
posted by rongorongo at 3:04 AM on March 31, 2008

a couple more suggestions:

- james lipton's book on unique category descriptors (more entertaining than it might sound at first, e.g. "a slouch of models")

- the dictionary of cliches, an entertaining archaeology of common english phrases

- and, heck, why not have a go at the tractatus logico-philosophicus?
posted by garfy3 at 4:30 AM on March 31, 2008

One book that deals with where language and taxonomies intersect is Sorting things out : classification and its consequences by Geoffrey C Bowker and Susan Leigh Star. Another one is Women, fire, and dangerous things: what categories reveal about the mind by George Lakoff.
posted by copystar at 5:14 AM on March 31, 2008

It was a little to woo-woo for me, but you might enjoy Metapatterns.
posted by pullayup at 5:25 AM on March 31, 2008

The Gene Ontology is an ontology of functions for genes, biological processes they are involved in, and cellular components they are expressed in. It's not a taxonomy, strictly speaking, because terms (mistakenly referred to as "categories" sometimes) can have more than one parent.

It is frequently used for scientific analyses.
posted by grouse at 5:31 AM on March 31, 2008

A Pattern Garden
posted by box at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2008

Mann's Pictorial Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Mine is from 1960. Each page is drawings of various groups of things, with questions at the top: "What Variety of Cat is That?" "How Old is That Cannon?" "When Was That Key Made? Many Beautiful Specimens Of All Ages." "Which British Lighthouse Is That?" "What Are Foreign Policemen Like?" "What Are Those Pincers Used For?"

The zine Craphound.

Browse in a library in the specialized dictionaries (e.g. logger terms, hobo slang).
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:09 AM on March 31, 2008

Children's Writer's Word Book
A thesaurus, with grade level from kindergarden through six. I have an older edition, which I use to help make complex thinking easier to understand. My most-used book.

Following are pattern-based but expensive (think interlibrary loan):

PERMACULTURE: A Designers' Manual
Holistic in the way 'Pattern Language' is. Has a chapter on patterns, and is the best book I have seen on adapting natural patterns to practical matters.

Patterns in Nature

Design with Nature

This one is great and low-cost (thanks Dover Publications):
Form, Function & Design
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:19 AM on March 31, 2008

And furthermore:

How to Read a Book

On the other hand:
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:29 AM on March 31, 2008

Typologies of Industrial Buildings and other books by Bernd & Hilla Becher.
posted by generalist at 7:41 AM on March 31, 2008

Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Check out the references at the bottom.
posted by swapspace at 4:26 AM on April 1, 2008

You might be interested in what are called ontologies in the field of artificial intelligence. Examples are John Sowa's KR Ontology and the CYC knowledge base (here's a snapshot).
posted by euphotic at 8:43 PM on April 11, 2008

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