I'm always skeptical when a new book comes out on some Torah subject and the advertising around it declares it to be new, groundbreaking or the first of its kind. Koheles long ago assured us that there is nothing new under the sun and this maxim generally holds true far more often than we would like to admit.
As a new example, consider the new, groundbreaking first of its kind book from Feldheim called "Hamafteach". The book surely fills a great need. For those of us who don't have the entire Shas memorized, a comprehensive index would be an incredibly useful tool. One can easily believe that HaMafteach will be a big seller for Feldheim.
What's more, the story behind where the book came from, as detailed at TabletMag is also inspiring. The author joins a list of names such as Kehati and Margaliot HaYam who prove that you can be a professional and talmid chacham without having to sit in the Beis Midrash all day long.
In fact, in this entire feel-good story about a great new sefer there is only one problem: the claim to novelty is untrue. HaMafteach, as thorough and important as it is, isn't the first index to the Talmud. Long before Artscroll was a gleam in Rav Nosson Sherman's eye, long before Rav Adin Steinaltz, shlit'a, began his incredible commentary to the Talmud, there was Soncino's English-Hebrew Talmud.
Much maligned for being difficult to follow and mostly ignored since the shiny new Artscroll's entered Hebrew book stores, the old Soncino Talmud has one incredibly redeeming feature: the Index volume. Just like HaMafteach it is an incredibly complete listing of various subjects and personalities from the Talmud Bavli. Yes, it does have limitations - as an index to the Soncino edition it uses that edition's page numbers (but there is a conversation table to standard Bavli page numbers, an annoying extra step but there nonetheless) but it was the actual first comprehensive index of the Talmud. And despite meriting barely a mention in The New York Times' version of this story, it deserves recognition.