I can’t believe I wrote about free ebooks for the 4th of July — and forgot to mention the Declaration of Independence!

It’s a surprisingly detailed snapshot of life in America in 1776 — but what’s really interesting is that it’s impossible to buy a free copy directly from Amazon’s Kindle store! There’s over 117 different ebooks about the Declaration of Independence for sale in the store — but they’ll all cost you at least 99 cents.

So how can you read a free copy of the Declaration of Independence? Just click on this link. Nearly 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 39 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.

The only small complaint that I have is that before you get to the text that Thomas Jefferson worked on, there’s an explanatory text about the history of the 1971 e-file — but if you’re a geek, that’s kind of itneresting too. “The title was stored in an emailed instruction set which required a tape or diskpack be hand mounted for retrieval. The diskpack was the size of a large cake in a cake carrier, cost $1500, and contained 5 megabytes, of which this file took 1-2%…

“The 10,000 files we hope to have online by the end of 2001 should take about 1-2% of a comparably priced drive in 2001.”

But of course, seven years later the world of book storage was revolutionized again. By the Kindle!

Thomas Jefferson

I found a fun way to celebrate the 4th of July with my Kindle. I navigated my way to Wikipedia’s web page with a fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Just seven months before it was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do.

“But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”

Wikipedia walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — but you don’t have to content yourself with a historical analysis for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, Benjamin Franklin began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life which is available on the Kindle as a free ebook. Franklin continued working on it over the next 20 years, until his death in 1790, noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…”

It’s especially poignant that he begins the biography in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But Franklin’s son sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Benjamin Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts on the idea of…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembers inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining a patent because it was for “the good of the people.”

It’s currently one of Amazon’s top 20 free ebooks, so I’m obviously not the only person who’s reading it this weekend. It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution?

With a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the real past of America…

The Day the Kindle Died

April 19, 2010

I’d been reading a free Charles Dickens novel — Hard Times — and realized I was more interested in learning some details about Charles Dickens’ life. Charles Dickens died in 1870. My Kindle died on April 18, 2010…

I’d pressed the search button on my Kindle, and then used my favorite shortcut — typing @wiki to begin a search on Wikipedia. And soon I was reading another page of trivia about Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop straight from Wikipedia.


Dickens fans were reported to storm the piers of New York City, shouting to arriving sailors (who may have read the last installment in Britain), “Is Little Nell alive?”

In 2007, many newspapers claimed the excitement at the release of the last volume The Old Curiosity Shop was the only historical comparison that could be made to the excitement at the release of the last Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I hit the back button, but my wireless connection had blipped out. The Kindle wasn’t even able to reload the page about Charles Dickens (which I’d already been reading). Frustrated, I pressed the Back key, and the Home key, but nothing happened. I even tried pressing Alt-P — to at least see if I could make it play music!

“She’s not answering my helm,” I told my girlfriend — doing my best impersonation of either Captain Kirk or an old British sailing captain. I turned my Kindle off, but even that didn’t affect its screen. It continued displaying the blank beginning of the Wikipedia page which it hadn’t been able to download.

My beloved Kindle…was dead.

Come back tomorrow to find out what happened next!


(Oh boy. My first blog post with a cliff-hanger ending…)

By the way, there’s a fascinating bit of trivia about the “Author You Can’t Read on Your Kindle.”

An author you won't see on your Kindle screensaver

William Saroyan was a first-generation Armenian-American, who have a custom of “inviting over relatives and friends, and providing them with a generously overflowing table of fruits, nuts, seeds, and other foods” (according to Wikipedia). There’s even a scene in a movie that Saroyan later helped to write — “The Human Comedy” — in which an Armenian woman offers the same courtesy to young Mickey Rooney when he comes to her house to deliver a telegram. I think she even says, “I give-a you candy.”

If you recognize that line, it’s because it’s also used in a famous song by Rosemary Clooney — which was based on the same Armenian-American custom.

Come on-a my house, my house
I’m gonna give you…candy.
Come on-a my house, my house
I’m gonna give you everything.

Coincidence? Hardly. William Saroyan co-wrote the lyrics in 1939 (though it didn’t become a hit until Rosemary Clooney recorded it nearly 12 years later in 1951.) And his co-author on the song was his cousin, a man named Ross Bagdadsarian, who 19 years later…created Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Interestingly, 1939 was the year that William Saroyan declined a Pulitzer Prize. That same year, he and his cousin were writing these lyrics.

Come on-a my house, my house a come on
Come on-a my house, my house a come on
Come on-a my house, my house I’m gonna give a you
Peach and pear and I love your hair ah
Come on-a my house, my house a come on
Come on-a my house, my house a come on
Come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you Easta-egg