Cover of the free ebook Loving Little Egypt by Thomas McMahon
I’ve found a great source for free ebooks. For the last year, one publisher has been quietly handing out a new free ebook each month. Last month, it was “The Best of Roger Ebert,” a fascinating collection of essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic. Called Awake in the Dark, it included his reviews of the best films for 38 different years, plus essays on film-related topics (like the way Star Wars changed Hollywood). This month that book is retailing for $9.99, but for at least part of last month — they were giving it away for free!

So what’s this month’s novel? It won the prestigious literature award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (when it was first published in 1987). It’s called Loving Little Egypt by Thomas McMahon, and its description on Amazon sounds pretty amazing. “Imagine E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime rewritten by a mellower, comically more benevolent Thomas Pynchon,” writes the Library Journal, “and you might have a novel something like this one. Real people — Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, William Randolph Hearst — are involved in imagined events, and historical facts counterpoint fictional themes…” It sounds a bit like steampunk hackers — the book’s cover describes it as “hilarious” and “wonderful” — but the author himself actually moonlighted as a Professor of Applied Mechanics and Biology at Harvard University. You may have heard of Thomas McMahon, since he was also the author of McKay’s Bees, which appeared in a long segment this summer on public radio’s “All Things Considered”. (“Moving from Massachusetts to Kansas in 1855 with his new wife and a group of German carpenters, Gordon McKay is dead set on making his fortune raising bees – undaunted by Missouri border ruffians, newly-minted Darwinism, or the unsettled politics of a country on the brink of civil war.”)

And remember, that’s the free ebook for the month of October — which means there’s another free ebook coming up soon in November. You can get updates by following their Twitter feed (which, surprisingly, has less than 3,300 followers) — or through their page on Facebook. (Or, for that matter, by just re-visiting the web page where they’re listing this month’s free ebook!) That’s the funniest part about these special offers. Amazon is still listing this month’s free ebook as selling for $9.99, even though it’s free if you visit the publisher’s web site!

They’ve been doing this for over a year — their first free ebook was claimed by 800 people, according to Publisher’s Weekly. (It was an obscure book by a 3rd-century Greek writer named Censorinus…)
And in February the free ebook was actually about free ebooks — sort of. It was a Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by a Chicago professor named Adrian Johns, and they handed out 2,400 free copies before the print edition even hit the shelves! (“We enjoyed the ‘steal this book’ irony of giving away a book about piracy,” they explained to Publisher’s Weekly.)

Ironically, that ebook now sells for $19.95…

They’re transmitting more copies of their books — by several magnitudes — than the first book they ever published in 1891, which, according to Wikipedia, sold just five copies! (Apparently there was very little demand for Assyrian and Babylonian Letters Belonging to the Kouyunjik Collections of the British Museum.) I’m talking about the University of Chicago Press, which Wikipedia identifies as the largest university press in America, and also one of the oldest. They’re famous as the publishers of “The Chicago Manual of Style”, a writing guide which helps set the standards for the entire publishing industry.

It’s just celebrated its 104th anniversary, and in September, they handed out a free ebook version to 7,408 readers — of the first edition published in 1906! It’s nice to think that as the Generations come and go, its publisher has survived into the dawn of the ebook. They’re still out there, delivering high-quality reading material, supported by the resources of a major university.

And sometimes, they’re even sharing those books for free!

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United States President Barack Obama and George Washington
There’s a new children’s book author in town, and his name is Barack Obama.

Today the President of the United States announced he’ll be publishing “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.” The book won’t be released until November 16, but Amazon is already selling pre-orders of the book at a 45% discount. The book won’t be available on the Kindle, so Amazon urges shoppers to “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle…” But poking around Amazon, I discovered another Barack Obama text that’s already available, for free, and another one written by his predecessor, George Bush.

For Barack Obama, it’s the presidential inaugural address, and whether you love or hate the President, it’s interesting to look back on the day that his presidency started, and remember just how different the world was in January of 2009. You can also download a free version of George Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address, or Ronald Reagan’s from 1982, so your Kindle is giving equal time to both political parties. But by exploring Amazon a little further, I discovered an even more fascinating historical document. It’s actually possible to download every inaugural address given by every previous U.S. President, all collected together into a single ebook!

There’s President Nixon, President Ford, President Clinton, and President Reagan, of course. But you can also point your time machine back towards the 1700s, reading the inaugural addresses of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, in 1789 and 1801, respectively. President Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, insisted on reading his entire two-hour inauguration speech — the longest in U.S. history — during a cold and rainy day in Washington D.C. He refused to wear a hat or coat, possibly trying to remind the audience that he was still the tough military general that had served in the War of 1812, but ironically, he died three weeks later after catching pneumonia.

Wikipedia insists that long speech was unrelated to Harrison’s death, but it’s still fun to sneak a peek at the hopes he held for the four years he never got to see. Every famous president from American history has their own inauguration speech — President Kennedy, President Truman, and one especially poetic address by Abraham Lincoln. And it was during his inaugural speech that Franklin Roosevelt made one of his most famous statements.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was just 28 years later that President Kennedy was inaugurated, and that speech is also in the collection, featuring an optimistic call to duty. (“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”) I’m looking forward to reading all the speeches, and it’ll be fun to flit around from century to century.

I just wonder if we’ll ever have a President who actually enjoys reading on the Kindle…

The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown cover

My girlfriend just finished reading The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown, a former U.S. Navy lawyer. And she’s also uncovered some important information about his true identity…

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That’s DON Brown, not Dan Brown, as I originally thought. (I’d been excited about reading another book on the Kindle to follow DAN Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.) I even read the description before I downloaded the book from the top of the Kindle 100 Free section. (Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that I spend a lot of time in the Kindle Top 100 Free section. My boyfriend lets me download anything on his Kindle as long as it’s free. If you want me to start reviewing stuff not in the free section, take it up with him!)

First, the positive. It is a good-sized novel, meaning it took me longer than half an hour to read it. (This is a step up from several titles I’ve downloaded recently.) Next, I learned a lot about the area around Singapore and Indonesia, with bonus points for several maps included with the text. Also, Don paints a great portrait of the Navy SEALS. Er, that’s about it.

The plot involves a power-hungry Indonesian general who wants to turn Indonesia into an Islamic superpower — the new Evil Empire (Islam) against the Christian USA. And yes, I mean Christian — specifically Republican Christian. The president in this novel quotes bible verses to himself at every turn and glows with Republican fervor. He mentions Ronald Reagan ad nauseam. He talks about the man, plus the people who fly in and out of Ronald Reagan airport in Washington D.C., and even named one of the critical air craft carriers in the plot after Reagan.

Don glows about fine Republican presidents of the past (although, strangely, neither of the Bushes are mentioned). His Republican president is strong, refusing to quit Washington D.C. because that would be bowing to terrorists. (Was that a reference to the fact that President G.W. Bush was in the air one hour after 9/11, and didn’t come down for hours, then went to an undisclosed location?)

But his president is also a bit whiney, asking God why HE has to deal with this terrorist attack; none of his predecessors had to contend with a nuclear attack on American soil. Why did it have to fall to him? Of course, whining is not weakness, as it leads to quoting bible verses and prayer. Let me be clear that in general I don’t mind people turning to God in times of great need. Also, it takes a strong man to turn to his God for help. However, it seems contrived in this story line as a way of quoting the bible. Kind of like when Charlie’s Angels contrives situations to show the girls in bikinis. (Yes, it’s in the plot line that they all of a sudden have to get on a boat, but it’s a stretch!)

Personally, I’m a bit tired of the “Evil Empire vs. godfearing Americans” plot lines. The new model has both sides talking to God (o.k., one side talking to God, the other to Allah). This is a step up from the godless communists but the intent is still the same.

OMG! Will the terrorists strike fear in the hearts of all Americans? Will the Islamic Indonesian Superpower rule the world ?!? Will they succeed in blowing up San Francisco, and then Washington, D.C.!?! How will it end?!? No spoiler alert here. You can guess the ending yourself.

Don wrote four other novels, this one published in June of this year, making me wonder why it was offered for free. Then I found that the Wikipedia page for Don Brown is flagged for removal because he’s a non-notable author who has no press coverage. Ouch. That explains why this book is in the free section — to get some press coverage! And I’m happy to oblige.

I would recommend giving this novel a skip, even if it is free.

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But if you’d like to give it a try, click here for a free copy of The Malacca Conspiracy by Don Brown!

Last Christmas, I couldn’t find Winnie-the-Pooh books for the Kindle. The only A.A. Milne story I’d found was an obscure comic mystery he’d written in 1922. But by spring, it looks like Pooh bear had magically crept out of the Hundred Acre Wood, and squeezed his way onto the Kindle, since you can now buy Kindle editions of both
Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

And it’s not just the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. A. A. Milne also published two books of children’s poetry – When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Many of the poems mention Christopher Robin, and there’s also a few that are specifically about Winnie-the-Pooh, as Milne explains in the book’s introduction.

Pooh wants us to say that he thought it was a different book; and he hopes you won’t mind, but he walked through it one day, looking for his friend Piglet, and sat down on some of the pages by mistake.

Best of all, they include all of the memorable original illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. Since the illustrations were already in black and white, they look great on the Kindle. And there’s something really precious about seeing those old-fashioned children’s book images on the screen of my 21st-century reading machine.

By the way, am I the only person who thinks A. A. Milne should be one of the authors included among the Kindle’s screensaver images?

I’ve found all the original Beatrix Potter stories for the Kindle — and with all of their illustrations in tact!

This is a real triumph, because you can also purchase all of the stories for free — if you’re willing to forgo the illustrations. (Because many of them were published more than a century ago, I’m guessing the copyright on the texts have expired.) Surprisingly, there are illustrations in at least one of the free editions of Beatrix Potter’s books — Project Gutenberg’s free version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit — but they’re by an entirely different illustrator named Virginia Albert. In fact, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find any illustrated versions of Potter’s books that could be read on the Kindle.

Fortunately, one of the Amazon reviewers reported that, yes, the pictures do come through on the Kindle — in black and white. “This brings me back to the time I learned to love reading,” they added, and I think it is a kind of a milestone. For many people, I’m sure that among their first memories of reading are those lavishly-illustrated fairy tales by Beatrix Potter.

And now you can read them on your Kindle!


(Here’s a list of the stories included in this illustrated edition….)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The Tailor of Gloucester
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny
The Tale of Two Bad Mice
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle
The Pie and the Patty-Pan
The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher
The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit
The Story of Miss Moppet
The Tale of Tom Kitten
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
The Roly-Poly Pudding
The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies
The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse
The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes
The Tale of Mr. Tod
The Tale of Pigling Bland
Ginger and Pickles
The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse
Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes