Home > Books, History, Technology, Travel > Antietam, Gettysburg, Books, Kindle

Antietam, Gettysburg, Books, Kindle

I’ll be in DC the week after next for some business. Gail will join me at the end, and two weeks from tomorrow we will take our first Civil War battlefield trip. That Saturday, we’ll drive up to Antietam National Battlefield, where we hope to get a tour with a local battlefield guide. We’ll then continue on to Gettysburg, where we’ll be staying at a bed and breakfast for two nights. The next day we’ll spend visiting Gettysburg National Military Park, where again we hope to have the help of a local guide. (I called this morning for guides and may be too late for Antietam. I’m awaiting a call back on Gettysburg, which seems to have an army of guides, so I assume we will succeed in reserving a tour.) I’m excited. This is long overdue. Perhaps it will be the first of many such trips.

Yesterday afternoon I looked into books we might read in preparation. Many years ago, I read James McPherson’s mammoth Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. I could try re-reading it. It’s so physically large that it would be a candidate for buying again in its Kindle version, though the Kindle is a disaster when it comes to displaying maps and photographs. Instead, I looked for books focused specifically on the two battles. For Antietam, I found another of McPherson’s books, the slim Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam: the Battle That Changed the Course of the American Civil War. And what do you know, he has an even slimmer book on Gettysburg, Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, in the superb Crown Journeys series of travel books. (I wrote about another member of the series, Frank Conroy’s Time & Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket, in one of the first posts for this blog.)

After a little more searching, I decided to buy McPherson’s two books. Now what? Buy the physical book or the electronic Kindle version? Or, maybe buy my first electronic books from the Apple store, for the iPad. Well, I eliminated the last possibility quickly — they aren’t available. But both were available for Kindle. Then I remembered that the Kindle is a map-viewing disaster, and surely I would want to study battlefield maps. On the other hand if I got the books on the Kindle, Gail and I could read them simultaneously. And I love the Crown Journeys series so much that maybe I would buy the Gettysburg book in both forms, one for maps and as a keepsake, the other for immediate access and simultaneous reading. As a starting point, I might as well get both for the Kindle, and that’s what I did.

I read the opening material of both and soon found myself looking at a map of Antietam. It was terrible. Useless. Ah, but the iPad has a free Kindle app, which I downloaded last week when I brought the iPad home. (Once one buys a Kindle book, one can download it to the Kindle itself or to the iPhone or the iPad). I downloaded the Antietam book, paged through it for the map, and it worked! I could do the usual two-finger expansion motion, as one would with photographs or webpages, getting the map to fill the screen, and it was entirely legible. A win for the iPad. On the other hand, the iPad is sufficiently heavier, and larger in size, that it’s not comfortable to hold with one hand, so for basic text reading I’m sure I will prefer the Kindle. If I’m willing to travel with both, I can use the Kindle for most reading, switching to the iPad version for maps and photos.

This may not be the best solution, but it will do. Another weakness of electronic reading, even if I’m satisfied with the quality of the graphics, is that it’s not as easy to return to reference items — maps, photos, family trees — as in a book. You can’t just flip back to a particular spot. You can mark a page. I’ll have to do that with the maps. But still, just turning to the desired page in a book seems a lot easier. Or maybe it’s just more familiar. Maybe I’ll get used to the electronic equivalent.

I didn’t mention it, but before I headed east at the beginning of March, I bought Kindle versions of two new travel books whose reviews convinced me that I had to have them: Peter Hassler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory and Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today . I thought they would be perfect reading on the trip. I got on the plane to Philadelphia to start the trip and immediately started reading Conover’s book. (One problem with electronic reading — when the plane’s doors shut, you have to shut the device until you’re 10,000 feet in the air. But there’s always the airline flight magazine.) I wasn’t thinking too clearly when I ordered the books. I just figured I could carry both on the trip easily, thanks to the Kindle, but I forgot about the map issue. Each chapter of Conover’s book recounts a different trip, opening with the tracking of the source of mahogany being used for expensive furniture in New York, from New York backwards to the Peruvian coast, over the Andes, and down into the Amazon basin. As I began to read, I realized that a map would be useful. I then saw that the author helpfully provides one. But on the Kindle, forget it. Amazon is going to have to figure out a way to improve its graphics presentation. As a start, a higher-contrast touch screen would help, with the ability to zoom in and out by Apple-style pinching moves. No doubt this will appear in time.

Categories: Books, History, Technology, Travel
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