Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Long Last . . . . ebook Joy!

Ebooks have probably ranked as one of the biggest disappointments of my school's laptop initiative. It was imagined that the cost students leasing computers would be offset by reduced book costs and the back-breaking inconvenience of book bags.

Unfortunately such hopes collided with the unavailability of etext substitutes and student/teacher preference for books with paper pages. Case in point, when I was asked to review a new text this fall, the publisher offered to send me the 800 pages as a pdf. This sounded awful, and I insisted that paper masters be shipped to me despite expense, paper "waste", etc. (So sue me).

But I recently experienced an ebook miracle. Years ago I inherited a family heirloom-- a book written by my great-grandfather (pictured here), containing material about his unit's service with General Custer. Pretty cool, but when I examined it as a kid, I got the impression that it was some kind of reunion book with a neat dedication to Grandma. I subsequently stored it on a remote shelf.

My brother has been doing genealogy research with and during one of his updates about the family tree, he mentioned my great grandfather's book. I turns out that he came across it in digital form through google book searches. He told me that it is a fascinating set of civil war remembrances and was flabbergasted to learn that I had a hard copy.

After I checked Google, I discovered that other hard copies exist in such interesting places as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library , West Point , Gettysburg College, the US Army Military History Institute, and most Ivy League Colleges. In fact the book had been scanned through the Harvard College collection. It turns out that the book is a valuable history of the war.

Most gratifying, however, is the thought that my great-grandfather's contribution to an understanding about the Civil War has been preserved and truly reborn online as an ebook. In fact, I invite you to glance at it: Seventh Michigan Volunteer Cavalry 1862-1865 by William O. Lee.

Its continued existence does not depend on slacker descendants like myself taking proper care of the aging paper copies.

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