U.S. History: A Catalog of Digital eBooks (Digital Book), Digital Publishing Group, 344 Gannett Road, Scituate, MA 02066, www.digitalscanning.com, 888-349-4443.
No matter what the futurists say, it seems unlikely that printed books will ever give way to “books” on computer systems of one kind or another. Printed pages don’t flicker. You can stick your real, non-virtual finger in a book, and flip back and forth between pages, or even dog-ear a page for instant future reference. Besides, part of the pleasure of reading is tactile.
There is a place, however, for books on CD-ROM, and that is as searchable reference works–especially when the printed originals are rare, old, fragile, or simply massive, like the Official Records of the Civil War. Sure, you can spend the day searching through the OR to find every mention of your great-great-grandfather. But you’ll be done in minutes if you search a CD-ROM version. This searchability seems to be the selling point behind the “digital e-books” of Digital Publishing Group (DPG).
DPG recently published a catalog of digital books related to U.S. history, and 19 of the offerings are related to the Civil War. These include classics like Herndon’s Lincoln and Debates of Lincoln and Douglas; the memoirs of Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, and others; and assorted accounts and histories, such as the Comte de Paris’s telling of the Gettysburg Campaign. Granted, not all of these are as useful as the OR, but they have merit.
I examined the CD-ROM version of Recollections of a Private, by Warren Lee Goss. Like most of DPG’s e-books, it sells for $24.95. The book is presented as a PDF file, accessible using Adobe Acrobat Reader (a copy of which is included on the CD-ROM, with installation instructions). I searched for the term “brevet” and found it–surprisingly, in a reference to certain officers’ “brevet” wives in winter camp. Searching was extremely easy. The illustrations sometimes had white horizontal lines through them, and printed out that way, too–perhaps a bug for DPG to work out.
DPG’s selection of e-books is still limited, but it promises to grow quickly. And the prices are very reasonable. It may be worth your while to request a catalog.