Actually reading my first eBook

Over the years I’ve saved a fair few full length ebooks. It’s been easy to hit download, then find a place to save them. While they’re not exactly gathering dust, most of them are sitting around unread.

This all changed in the last few days. On Saturday I noticed an advert for a book released 1 February 2011 telling the Guardian’s side of the Wikileaks story and baring all about Julian Assange. The story behind the story so to speak.

In no time I purchased an electronic copy, in Kindle format.

I’m reading my ebook on my HPMini, using Kindle reader software. As a reader, the wee brute does not offer a 100% satisfactory experience as there is no off-the-shelf version of Kindle for Ubuntu. It’s not that I can’t read the text, it’s just that my line of sight is distracted by (redundant) grey boxes and navigation. As I’m using a program that emulates Windows, I can’t get the latest version of the software which would likely eliminate these annoyances.

Unlike other times I’ve tried installing applications using the Ubunutu operating system, this time it was painless thanks to warda at RedShirtLinux in an excellent how-to blog post (“Getting Kindle for running in Ubuntu under Wine”).

Of course, although I “own” the book, or more likely the right to read it, I can’t view it in another, more user friendly reader. For instance I could potentially use Calibre, an open source reader that makes it easy to configure the viewing screen and set other preferences, and manage an ebook collection as well. With DRM encoding the book is strictly for reading within Amazon’s proprietary universe, an irony which won’t be lost on the hacking community that supports Wikileaks.

As I’ve also got Kindle software on my Mac desktop and laptop, I can read elsewhere. But sitting at my desk (which I associate with work) or with my hefty laptop is not so appealing. I’m beginning to see the convenience of a tablet or dedicated ebook reader. (So don’t act surprised when you hear I’ve got one).

Having got 20% of the way through (I can’t specify a page number as they are not used on in ebooks it seems), I get the sense the book was rushed into print. It’s not totally coherent and there are big gaps (for instance Assange’s life story between 2002 and 2006), but it is enlightening. It seems as the Guardian journalists are applying the same same standard of transparency to Assange as the wikileaker does to governments, corporates and elites: they reveal details of their relationship and put two and two together in a way I’d imagine the Australian would find unflattering (to say the least). Some commentary is fairly speculative, and some bloggers have identified factual errors.

But as Russell Brown says in his review of “Wikileaks” from earlier today, “I have emerged from the book with a renewed admiration for Julian Assange’s talent and commitment and a better understanding of his politics. I’ve also had some of my misgivings confirmed. ” Brown recommends the book.

With not only the Guardian telling all, but also the New York Times (see “Dealing With Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets“) and disgruntled ex-Wikileaks insider Daniel Domscheit-Berg, there’s a risk that how things happened will overshadow what happened: getting out information vital for holding powerful interests to account for their actions, and a far reaching example of how a ‘free’ or neutral internet can be used for good (something a corporate takeover of the web threatens).

Although I’m not exactly falling head over heels reading on an electronic device, I think I’ll finish the book as it’s a gripping story. One whose ending has yet to be written.


You can get a sneak preview of the book, with this introduction by Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor, or hear in brief from the journalists involved in this short video.