Far from Complete: Great Books Missing in the Kindle Format
January 26, 2013 - 11:26 pm
I was a slow convert to the idea of ebooks. My wife bought one of the first Kindles, and I couldn’t get past the off-putting appearance of the text on the screen in the Kindle’s first iteration. But then I tried the Kindle app for Windows. And the Kindle app for my Android Tablet. And slowly began to fall in love. I could read anywhere. I could free up space on my overflowing and limited physical bookshelves. I could easily quote what I had just read in a blog post. The idea of being able to carry my entire library with me and having it accessible in locations as diverse as the treadmill at the gym or a seat on an airplane became increasingly irresistible.
But not my entire library, alas. There are numerous examples of books that I’d repurchase in a second to read on my Kindle that simply aren’t there yet. Nor are they available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader; I’ve searched.
Off the top of my head, in an ideal world here’s what I’d like to see in the Kindle format. Amazon links are included, if you’d like to get started reading any of these titles now in good ol’ dead tree format — which might be a good idea, as I suspect the wait for some of these might be glacial.
■ Alvin Toffler’s Back Catalog: Toffler’s Future Shock was a huge bestseller when it was first published in 1970. A decade later, The Third Wave, the sequel to Future Shock, would be name-checked by Newt Gingrich during the heady days of the “Republican Revolution” in 1995, shortly after he became speaker of the House, which gives a sense of how the book’s predictions held up in the interim 15 years. Toffler’s War and Anti-War applied the principles of the Third Wave to warfare; Powershift applied them to business. Given that The Third Wave was a pretty accurate prediction of how the Internet reshaped society in the 1990s, if any book deserves to be available in electronic format, it’s this one. Where is it? (For my interviews with Toffler, click here and here.)
■ Profiles of the Future, by Arthur C. Clarke: A quarter century before Star Trek: The Next Generation displayed its first replicator onscreen, Clarke was writing about them in Profiles, along with plenty of other futuristic technology; some we now take for granted (such as the Internet and the Kindle) and others that are still on the drawing board. Again, why isn’t such a forward-thinking book not an ebook as well?
■ Filmguide to 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Carolyn Geduld. Speaking of when Stanley Kubrick’s enigmatic 2001: A Space Odyssey left so many audiences baffled in the late 1960s, co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke was fond of saying, “Read the book, see the movie, repeat the dosage.” Right idea, and while Clarke’s novelization of 2001 is available on Kindle, it’s not necessarily the best book for cracking the film’s mysteries. If I had to hand one baffled 2001 viewer the Cliff’s Notes to the movie, it would be Geduld’s book from 1973, which thoroughly charts out the film’s plot and leitmotifs.
The flat-panel news and information devices the astronauts read while eating dinner in 2001 directly inspired the iPad and Kindle. Now that technology has finally caught up Kubrick’s 1968 vision, shouldn’t the book that places them into context be accessible on those devices as well?
■ The Death of the Grown-Up, by Diana West. The subhead of West’s book is “How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization.” As Michelle Malkin noted in 2007 when she interviewed West on her book, others have written about the increasing child-like naiveté of society, but West was perhaps the first to explain how it has hamstrung our fight in what was once called the Global War on Terror. That we had (have?) a war named after tactics rather than the enemy we’re fighting is due to the GWOT receiving its name largely through a process of elimination, as West noted in her book and the articles that preceded it, as political correctness allows few other choices.
■ The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830, by Paul Johnson: This 1992 book was included last year on the Kindle’s coming soon list, but it ultimately never made it into electronic format. It’s too bad; I’ve enjoyed the book in dead tree format, and would love to go back and luxuriate in it once again in electronic format. As Commentary noted in their review at the time of the book’s original publication:
Paul Johnson boldly argues in this vast and vastly rich book, “the matrix of the modern world was largely formed” in the years between the battles of Waterloo and New Orleans in 1815 and the overthrow of the restored French monarchy in 1830. According to Johnson,
modernity was conceived in the 1780′s. But the actual birth, delayed by the long, destructive gestation period formed by the Napoleonic wars, could begin in full measure only when peace came and the immense new resources in finance, management, science, and technology which were now available could be put to constructive purposes.
By then, thanks to steam power, the world’s first passenger railway (Manchester-Liverpool) was running, and nine daily newspapers were being published in London. The same new technology had spawned gunboat diplomacy after the shallow-draft steamer Diana penetrated 500 miles up the Irrawaddy River in 1825 to chase a fierce fleet of oar-driven Burmese imperial praus until their thousands of oarsmen were exhausted and the praus were sunk at leisure by the Diana’s guns, proving to one eyewitness that “the muscles and sinews of men could not hold out against the perseverance of the boiling kettle.”
■ Fatherland, by Robert Harris: The birth of the modern world in the early to mid-19th century gave man many blessings, but it also created the technology — and more importantly, the totalitarian worldview and the concept of “Start From Zero” — that unleashed newfound horrors a century later, as seen in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But how similar where these two ideologies?
In Robert Harris’s best-selling alternative history book, first published in 1992, it’s 1964, Nazi Germany won World War II by getting to the atom bomb first, and a stalemate — a Cold War, if you will — exists between America and Germany. President Joseph P. Kennedy, who won the White House due to the appeasement with the Nazis he preached during World War II, is scheduled to fly into Germany to begin discussions leading to détente between America and an Evil Empire. Sound eerily familiar? As Orrin Judd wrote in a perceptive review of Harris’s book, Fatherland is a brilliant metaphor for the Cold War:
A nuclear balance of terror surely would have kept America from invading Europe and, after a suitable period of huffy pretense, there surely would have been a significant segment of public opinion, particularly in academic intellectual circles, advocating detente–just as has actually happened with both the USSR and Red China. And just as the Holocaust failed to draw the U. S. into WWII in the first place, and just as the millions of victims of Russian and Chinese communist oppression failed to deter rapproachments with those countries, it’s easy to believe that the “disappearance” of Europe’s Jews would have little impact on an American/German détente.
The story is engrossing enough on its own, but these speculations, and the subtle way in which they implicate the past sixty years of Western history, turn the book into a disturbing and subversive novel of ideas. Conservative historians–like Robert Conquest, Richard Pipes and Allan Bullock–have beaten their heads against a wall for years, demonstrating to an uncaring elite establishment how little the Soviet Union, Stalin and Communism differed from Nazi Germany, Hitler and Nazism. But this popular thriller makes the same points, and reveals the moral emptiness of our policy of détente, in a wonderfully imaginative way. What more can we ask of an author than that he entertain us and at the same time raise questions that trouble our souls?
Apparently, Fatherland was included in the early books rushed into Kindle format, and is still available on the Amazon UK site for British Kindle owners, but isn’t currently available in the States. Is it a case of Amazon or the publisher losing the electronic format licensing rights? Otherwise, what on earth is stopping Amazon from rectifying this?
■ Conversations with Tom Wolfe, Compiled and edited by Dorothy Scura: Think of this as the real-life Cliff’s Notes to Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film Network. Long before Wolfe became a best-selling novelist, he was first a working journalist, and then a master of long-form non-fiction. This collection of interviews, spanning Wolfe’s career from the 1960s through the publication of 1987’s Bonfire of the Vanities, is an excellent look at how mass media — the “overculture,” as James Lileks would say — functioned at the height of its power. (In the meantime, however, Wolfe’s 1982 anthology, The Purple Decades, is available on Kindle, and an excellent, cost-effective electronic compilation of the best of his original non-fiction.)
■ Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade: Sure, his weekly column and books on civilization’s impending doom are must-reads. But long before he was charting mankind’s demise as a whole, Mark Steyn was, for years, the obituarist at The Atlantic, before that magazine decided to trade him for Andrew Sullivan and draft picks back in 2007. Following Sullivan morphing the following year into the world’s foremost uterus detective, and in recent weeks with the Atlantic’s disastrous Scientology infomercial, that formerly august institution is now suffering the same fate as the Boston Red Sox in the years after they traded away Babe Ruth.
Over the last 20 years, the left has reduced the word “diversity” down to a meaningless catchphrase. But if you’d like to get a real sense of the diversity of life and opinion of those who were in power, whether in politics, business, or show-biz at the turn of the new millennium, then Steyn’s Passing Parade, a compilation of some of his best obits, is tremendous fun. It deserves a new life (so to speak) in the Kindle format. (For my interviews with Steyn, click here and here.)
■ Architects of Fortune: Mies Van Der Rohe and the Third Reich, by Elaine S. Hochman: In 1989, long before Jonah Goldberg explored the relationship between socialism and National Socialism, Hochman wrote an intriguing look at Germany’s Weimar era of the 1920s, and the horrors that followed. Hochman charts the rise of Mies van der Rohe, who began the 1920s virtually unknown, before emerging at the start of the following decade as Germany’s best-known modern architect and the headmaster of the Bauhaus, Germany’s pioneering school for modern design. He achieved his fame through a combination of sheer artistic talent and the will of a powerful personality.
Hochman compares Mies’s career in the 1920s through the mid-1930s with a wannabe-architect who began the period as even more of an unknown, but through the strength of his own will, took over the entire nation. Hitler of course hated the aesthetics of modernism, whether in art or architecture. Part of this was populism and not wanting to get too far ahead of the aesthetics of the nation’s citizens, another part was due to Hitler’s own failed artistic endeavors. But the impulse to hit the CLT-ALT-DLT buttons on Berlin’s buildings was never far from his mind, even as he was doing the same to the rest of the nation’s culture. “If I continually put architectural problems into the foreground,” Hochman quotes Hitler saying in 1935, “that is because they lie nearest my heart.” (And there they’d remain even as the end was nigh; recall the scene early in Downfall where Hitler obsesses over giant architectural models of his fantasy Berlin.)
Given that Architects of Fortune was written in the late 1980s, there are plenty of quotes from former Miesian acolyte Philip Johnson, still very much alive at the time, and with his own duality on the subject of loving socialist-inspired architecture, and socialist-themed totalitarianism looming uncomfortably in the background. (A review of Hochman’s book by fellow PJM columnist Roger Kimball is online at the New Criterion.)
■ The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, by Terry Teachout. Neither Pops, Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, nor his earlier look at Mencken are available on the Kindle, curious oversights given Teachout’s vantage point as the Wall Street Journal’s longtime drama critic. To understand the misanthropy, nihilism, and sheer “oikophobia” that drive so many journalists in the 21st century, it’s necessary to discover its root cause, and all roadmaps point back to H.L. Mencken. Teachout’s 2003 book is an excellent introduction to Mencken’s career, and his worldview.
■ The Predators’ Ball: The Inside Story of Drexel Burnham and the Rise of the Junk Bond Raiders, by Connie Bruck: By the early 1990s, Mike Milken had become a household name, one that was synonymous with greed, insider trading, and all that was wrong with Wall Street. It didn’t help that the economy slipped into recession right around the time the MSM was pillorying Milken and Drexel. Prior to becoming mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani used this period to make his bones as Manhattan’s district attorney, by having stockbrokers at Drexel photographed in handcuffs as they were escorted for questioning. But few know of Milken’s rise to power at Drexel Burnham Lambert, or how he transformed a heretofore little-known financial asset, the low-rated high-yield bond — the so-called “junk” bond — into one of the hottest financial markets of the 1980s. (And high yield bonds, and mutual funds that contain junk bonds, are very much still around to this day, of course.)
Michael Lewis’s similarly themed book, Liar’s Poker, is available on Kindle, and charts how Salomon Brothers, a direct competitor with Drexel Burnham, invented the mortgage-backed security, which led eventually to the far worse financial crisis of 2008. The Predator’s Ball is Liar’s Poker played straight, without the humorous prose that makes Lewis’s book so much fun to read, but if anything, Bruck’s book is much more thoroughly researched, and equally worthy of being archived in ebook format as a financial history of the 1980s.
■ God’s Coach: The Hymns, Hype, and Hypocrisy of Tom Landry’s Cowboys, by Skip Bayless: In the last 15 years, sportswriter Skip Bayless tarnished his reputation by making an unsubstantiated claim that 90s-era Cowboy QB Troy Aikman was playing for the other team (IYKWIMAITYD) only to reemerge after years in the journalistic wilderness as a talking head on ESPN. But at the start of the 1990s, he wrote a pretty decent summation of the first three decades of the team that helped transform the NFL into America’s most popular professional sport. Bayless, then a Cowboys beat writer, wrote his first book in the immediate aftermath of new owner Jerry Jones acquiring the Cowboys and unceremoniously showing Landry, the Cowboys’ legendary founding coach, the door. God’s Coach ends up actually casting most of the blame for the Cowboys’ woes in the 1980s with the eroding skills of draftmaster Gil Brandt, but the revered Landry shouldn’t emerge unscathed for looking the other way while so much corruption tore his team apart. And Bayless’s prose makes this book an endlessly enjoyable guilty pleasure for NFL fans. I suspect it would get plenty of rereads if it ever appears in Kindle format.
■ The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana, by Peter Hitchens: Written by the conservative brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain starts with one of the best juxtapositions imaginable to explain today’s England, and the culture it replaced. Hitchens compares the sober stiff-upper-lip response of British citizens to the 1965 death of Winston Churchill, to the mawkish insanity that swept the nation from top to bottom, when Princess Di was killed in a car accident in 1997. Diana was photographed looking glamorous in receiving lines next to Eric Clapton and George Michael; all Churchill did was win World War II. Examining the intense contrast of the British people to these two deaths is the first step to understanding how radically British culture had changed. Given how America’s own culture is changing (even as we were impacting Britain’s), England’s horrific recent welfare riots, and President Obama’s seeming urge to transform America into England, this book seems more timely than ever.
■ Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism, by William McGowan: In 2010, McGowan wrote Gray Lady Down, a devastating indictment of the decadence and intellectual sloth that transformed the New York Times from a paper that in the early 1970s was praised by no less than William F. Buckley for its straight-shooting lack of bias, to its current far left incarnation. But over a decade ago, McGowan wrote Coloring the News, which explored the corrosive effect of political correctness on the news industry in general. Or as former Timesman John Corry noted in his 2001 article on Coloring the News in National Review:
Liberal delicacy has its moments. Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., once paid the Most Reverend Prophet Alpha Omega Bondu $12,000 in state funds to drive the evil spirits from a Haitian psychiatric patient who had hacked his girlfriend to death. The Rev said the patient was afflicted by seven evil spirits, and that he had chased away four. Alert to cultural sensibilities, however, the New York Times declined to call this an exorcism; it reported that the $12,000 had been spent on “religious counseling.”
As an example of journalistic malfeasance, that may not be much; by Times standards it’s nothing at all. But it does hint at the problem: Whole groups and classes of supposedly oppressed people — voodoo priests among them — must be presented sympathetically in news coverage. Few in our major news organizations admit this, however, and even if they acknowledge the existence of P.C. journalism, they seem to believe it is practiced only by others. In fact, however, virtually everyone obeys the rules of the dominant P.C. culture, and makes news judgments accordingly. A dissenting judgment will be dismissed automatically as uninformed or wrongheaded, but it may also be denounced as a sign of racism, misogyny, or homophobia.
Think of Coloring the News as the liner notes for Tom Wolfe’s recent Back to Blood. Political correctness has only accelerated in newsrooms in the years since, making Coloring The News’ absence in the Kindle format another disappointment.
■ American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, edited by Bruce Frohnen: Published in 2006, this is a mammoth 1000-page tome, with entries on everyone who was anyone in the conservative movement, from pioneers and fellow travelers such as Albert Jay Nock, William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and Ayn Rand, all the way to Jonah Goldberg, all the way to Pat Buchanan. It’s a useful bookshelf reference, but given its size, rather unwieldy. Why not give it an update to reflect newcomers since the original version was released (Breitbart, Palin, Allen West, the Tea Party, etc.) and offer it up electronically?
■ It Didn’t Start with Watergate, by Victor Lasky: One of the best political books of the 1970s, and a useful counterweight to so much of the reporting from that era, which acted as if corruption in Washington began with the arrival of the Nixon Administration in 1969. Used copies are available via Amazon, but this really ought to be in Kindle format, as a reminder of how little has changed inside the trench warfare of the Beltway, in the decades sense. I know I’d reference it early and often in blog posts.
■ Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, by Paul Harrington: OK, this last title is included just for fun –- but I really would like to own a copy on Kindle, if only to keep my copies of the original book free from spillage. For reasons known only to themselves, Hot Wired, the mid-1990s Internet spin-off of Wired magazine, had a superb cocktail-oriented sub-Website, run by master mixologist Paul Harrington. The site featured beautifully written descriptions of the featured drinks, handsome illustrations of the drinks in context, a searchable menu, and definitions of the some more obscure terms of bartending. Unlike many cocktail-themed Websites that seem to think that alcohol began when James Bond or (more recently) Don Draper ordered their first Martinis and Old Fashioneds, Harrington traces the lineage of many of the best drinks back to Prohibition, the 19th century, and in some cases, even earlier.
Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, the 1998 hard cover compendium of the Website’s contents (portions of which can still be accessed via the Wayback Machine), now goes for insane prices on Amazon. But its publisher would sell lots of new copies if they updated it for the Kindle, especially if there were plenty of hyperlinks added to easily maneuver around the book.
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Well, that’s my list of books that are missing on the Kindle — at least for now. I’d love to look back in a year and find all of these titles available electronically, and this entire article thus rendered obsolete. In the meantime, though, what books would you like to see in the format? Perhaps Amazon or those who own the copyright to them will read this article and its comments section, and respond accordingly.