Saturday, August 20, 2011
Free Books: Scotland & America on Kindle and the Internet Archive
As part of an ongoing research project, I have been reading a small collection of books on Pennsylvania and Presbyterianism in the United States. As I am reasonably certain that the library will not let me renew them for a fourth time, it occurred to me that I might find them on the internet. I mean EVERYTHING is on the internet, isn't it?
Apparently, everything is NOT on the internet as I did not find the books I was hoping to. However, I did find many others and learned about the Kindle PC reader to boot. In the interest of full-disclosure I should state, I do not own a Kindle reader. My mother got one for her birthday a few months back, but hasn't used it yet.
Apparently, one can download the Kindle Reader for PC, iPhone, iPad and heaven knows what other devices for free. I would imagine Amazon offers this service in the hopes that you will buy Kindle books, even if you don't buy the dedicated e-reader. I did download a couple of free Kindle books courtesy of Writer's Digest, and they look very much like an actual book except that they larger than life-size on my computer monitor.
On Amazon.com I found the following titles, which I was able to download for free:
Fox's Book of Martyrs Or A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths of the Primitive Protestant Martyrs*
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations* by Adam Smith
Celtic Religion in Pre-Christian Times
Democracy in America - Volume 1 & Democracy in America - Volume 2* by de Tocqueville
The First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous regiment of Women by John Knox
Scotland's Mark on America
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.* by James Boswell
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
The Proverbs of Scotland
Literary Tours in The Highlands and Islands of Scotland
Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland* by Samuel Johnson
A Short History of Scotland
History of the Mackenzies, with genealogies of the principal families of the name
Fians, Fairies and Picts
The Federalist Papers
The Scottish Chiefs
The Scottish Reformation*
Elements of Gaelic Grammar
The Jacobite Rebellion
The Covenants And The Covenanters Covenants, Sermons, and Documents of the Covenanted Reformation
These books were made available through the work of volunteers. When opened each looks like a PDF file, not like an e-book. Those books marked with an * are available in more Kindle friendly editions, most for as little as a dollar.
If you do not like the look of the page in the PC Kindle Reader you can change the font size, the width of the page, the brightness and the color (black text on white background or the other way round). By highlighting a word and right-clicking you can highlight the word in the e-book, add a note, look something up in the dictionary, copy the word, or search the e-book for other occurrences of that word. This is my first foray into the world of e-books and it is kind of nifty; but I'm still a fan of the real thing.
Some of these works, like those by Samuel Johnson, John Bunyan, and John Knox might have been read by your ancestors. Others, like Fox's Book of Martyrs (which does not include the illustrations) or Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, are primary documents and having them available on your computer might be handy or an easy way to get a primary source for a research paper at two in the morning. Most of these titles are secondary texts written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and I'm not sure how reliable modern scholars would consider them. They would be especially useful for literature review sections of research papers -you know X and Y said this in 1825 and 1903 respectively, but later scholars do not seem to support this view of Scottish Z.
Many, many out-of-copyright books are also available for download in various formats via the Internet Archive. I've not looked through their entire catalog, although they do seem to have a sizable collection of US County Histories. I did download a couple of titles in the PDF and Kindle formats. Based upon this experience, I think you would be better off with the PDF version as these are an actual scan of the book. The Kindle version seems to have put the PDF scan through and OCR program which didn't work very well. What this means in practical terms is that some sentences are perfect and others are total gibberish.
Finding public domain works is now kind of like a treasure hunt - what else will we find?