Old books (cropped)Alastair Hannay has produced a new translation of Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety! This is great news for Kierkegaard scholars, and perhaps even better news for people who are not actually scholars but simply fans of Kierkegaard, because Hannay’s translations are markedly superior to the Princeton translations. Hannay’s new translation was not actually the occasion for this post, however. I’ll have a review of the translation later. The reason for this post is that I was delighted to discover that the translation is available in an ebook edition! Not only that, in preparation for my review, I thought I would see if Princeton had issued an ebook of Reidar Thomte’s translation of Anxiety, and sure enough, they have come around as well!

I know there are still a few people out there who are still resisting the transition to ebooks, so I thought I would take the opportunity once again to try to convince them that ebooks are fantastic! I have lots of beautiful old volumes of late 18th and early 19th-century philosophy and theology that I collected in Denmark and I doubt there are many people who appreciate a beautiful book more than I do. I have to tell you, though, that I am absolutely crazy about ebooks. I was excited about the idea of them when I first heard about them for the simple reason that they are searchable. Once I got a Kindle, however, I discovered that there are lots more wonderful things about ebooks:

1. They take no space. This is very important for me because even with two residences and an office at school, I have no more space for books.

2. You can carry thousands of books with you in your pocket everywhere you go so that never again will you be stuck anywhere without something to read. In fact, if you have a smart phone, you can read your books on your phone in the unfortunate event that you have failed to bring your ebook reader along with you. I know that sounds kind of crazy. I never thought I would want to read a book on my phone. It’s surprisingly pleasant though. I think the fact that the phone has backlighting makes it easier to read the small characters so that they don’t actually seem all that small.

3, You can secure a new book instantly, INSTANTLY! Once I was watching a program on mysticism and the narrator referred to a scholar of mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, who sounded very interesting. I was able to download a copy of one of her books before the program I was watching had even finished! This, to me, is just a huge advantage to ebooks. It has been enormously stimulating to my thought processes that I can get books immediately (not to mention that I can search them).

4. It is easy to move back and forth between notes and text. You just click on the note number and you are taken to the note. Click on the back button and you are back to the point in the text where the note appears. This isn’t easier than checking footnotes, of course, but it is much easier than checking endnotes. I hate endnotes, but everyone seems to be doing them now instead of footnotes.

5. I can cut and paste text to my lecture notes for class or for articles I’m working on–and the reference is inserted automatically!

6. You can download free samples of books you are not sure you want to buy and these samples are pretty substantial chunks of text, usually at least a whole chapter.

7. Ebooks are cheaper than regular books, so if you buy as many books as I do, you save A LOT of money buying ebooks.

8. Not only are ebooks cheaper than conventional books, lots and lots of them are actually free! That’s right, lots of books that have gone into the public domain (including lots of older translations of Plato and other philosophers) are available free of charge in the Kindle bookstore (I’m sure Barnes and Noble has something similar for their Nook).

9. Ebooks are easier to read in bed because they are lighter than most regular books and you don’t have to manage the two halves. I used to get very uncomfortable because I sleep on my side so, if I were reading a really thick book either my arm would get tired holding up the thick side or I would have to turn over on my other side every time I finished reading a page.

Ebooks are the wave of the future. Not only are they better in all the ways listed above than conventional books for readers, they make it much easier for people to get into print (meaning e-ink print, of course). The ebook revolution is going to be as big a thing, I think, as was the invention of the printing press. There were books before the printing press, but books (not to mention democracy) really took off after the invention of the printing press. I think ebooks are going to have just as revolutionary an effect on humanity as did the printing press.

Okay, there are some disadvantages with them. Unless you have an iPad, or other tablet computer, you won’t get the full experience of color illustrations. That isn’t such a huge problem for philosophers and theologians, though, because most of our books don’t have big color illustrations. Of course, you need to charge an e-reader whereas you don’t need to charge a book. E-readers actually hold a charge for a long time, however. My Kindle Paperwhite holds a charge for weeks even though it is backlighted. Finally, t is difficult to “page through” an e-reader (you are better off doing a search on a key word).

The advantages of e-books clearly FAR outweigh their disadvantages. Sorry to go on like this but I am so crazy about ebooks. I do this to everyone who tells me he doesn’t like e-books, that to me is like saying you don’t like to read. If you like to read, you will LOVE e-books. Mark my words!


  1. I agree with most of what you say about ebooks, but I have a couple of concerns about them. I can’t seem to get the orientation on my old Kindle to lock in, so when I move it slightly, it shifts orientation in a disconcerting way. I’ve tried to follow the instructions for locking in, but they haven’t worked. The other thing is that e-readers are technology, and technology is continually being updated and the old editions are made obsolete. Who can play a beta tape any more? I have some beta tapes but nothing to play them on. CDs, they tell me, age out after awhile, unlike books. And microfiche, which was supposed to be so great, is getting hard to access. So I don’t know what could happen to make your ebooks inaccessible, but I think it’s unlikely that they will be as accessible in 100 years–or maybe even 10–as an old-fashioned book.

  2. Kindle has already been through several versions, however, without that affecting anyone’s “kindle library.” In fact, your Kindle books are stored “in the cloud” so you can download them to new devices as you get them. It’s not inconceivable that Amazon would change the format so that you’d have to buy all your books all over again. My guess, however, is that they would be looking at such a giant lawsuit that that probably won’t happen. I suppose there could be a problem if you tried to pass your ebooks down to your heirs, but they may find some way around that and how many people read their parents’ books anyway?

  3. Having worked for several newspapers and spent many hours staring at a computer screen as deadline nears, I have had my fill of reading on a screen: A printed page is far easier on the eye. Moreover, remote storage means that the federal government and the corporate sector can monitor which book a person is reading – and even when she turns a page. Also, recently a traveller to Singapore reported that, while there, she had been unable to get any access to her e-books – apparently there are financial or copyright issues within that government’s jurisdiction. Further, as generations of technology march on, a current e-book reader will have to be replaced periodically, securely placing the owner within that endless capitalist process of planned obsolescence.
    It simply is not true that “democracy” grew enormously after the invention of the printing press: Such a technological determinist view is soundly thrashed by Michael Warner’s book, ‘The Letters of the Republic.’
    An e-book does not allow for placing one book with marginalia beside two others, and comparing back and forth while consulting a dictionary to translate a phrase. I suspect that there are more than “a few” people who dislike and/or distrust e-books. To me, to say that one loves e-books is to say that one loves being a slave of the corporate sector. No, thank you.

    1. You certainly make some valid points here. I do have a few responses, however. First, you don’t have to read ebooks on a computer. I ordinarily read mine (as do most people, I believe) on an e-reader. I have actually come to enjoy reading books on my Kindle PaperWhite even more than I like reading print books because of the ease of moving back and forth between notes and because the back-lighting and the ability to adjust the size of the font makes ebooks easier to read than conventional books.

      Physical books can be seized and destroyed just as ebooks can be, although admittedly, the seizure of the latter is easier.

      Yes, I’m going to have to replace my e-reader periodically. I’ve already had to do that once. The money I have saved, however, on ebooks over print books has more than made up for the cost of replacing my original Kindle (in fact, I saved almost the entire price of my new PaperWhite on a single scholarly book that was over $100 for the print version, but less than $10 for the ebook version).

      We’ll just have to agree to disagree about the relation between the invention of the printing press and the spread of democracy. I feel compelled to point out, however, than one book cannot alone discredit the volumes of literature that support the connection between these two phenomena.

      Finally, those who eschew e-books are even more firmly in the grip of the corporate sector than are e-book enthusiasts. Many of the new upstart presses simply cannot afford to produce hard copies of the books they publish. If you want cutting edge populist material, then e-books are your best bet. If you want to wait for a bunch of corporate suits to vet your reading material, then by all means, stick to old-fashioned physical books! P.S. You might want to check out my article “The Gatekeepers of Publishing” in the most recent print edition of the political journal CounterPunch.

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