In the last two parts of this series I said that to use Logos, Accordance, or Olive Tree to their full potential, you have to spend some money to buy quality books. For some people that is enough to turn the off of these Apps. I have students tell me how impoverished they are and that they could not possibly buy a Logos collection or an Accordance bundle (usually while texting someone on their iPhone). Maybe you are just out for a bargain (I haunt used book stores hoping to find a treasure in the stacks!) Perhaps you are like me and cannot resist the lure of an old book but get frustrated with the high prices on “collectible” books.
For these reasons I will finish out this series on using the iPad for biblical studies with a look at free books. Free books are often worth what you pay for them, but there are some real gems available for free. Many of these books cannot be purchased or are very expensive. Most libraries do not see the value in shelving 125 year old journals, so the only chance to see some of these books is via Google or some similar source. For example, I have enjoyed reading early numbers in the Palestine Exploration Society’s Quarterly Report. These descriptions of the state of archaeology in Palestine and Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century are fascinating!
Google Books. Google Books is a free App which is a front-end for the Google Books Store. There are commercial books in the Good Book Store, but it is worth poking around for the out-of-print free books. Unfortunately the tagging of free books is terrible. For example, search on “Jesus and the Gospels,” change the price to “free” and several hundred titles will appear. Some of these make sense (Jesus and the Gospels by James Denney, Hodder and Stoughton, 1908), but Bibliotheca Sacra 30 (1873) and Calvin’s Institutes also appear in the list. Still, there are some classics available for free: David Strauss’s A New Life Of Jesus (1865) is there as is Ernst Renan’s The Life of Jesus (1866), Plummer’s Commentary on John (1896), and Godet’s Commentary on Luke (1881). I happened to choose Jesus and the Gospels, any topic will yield hundreds of books. It might be better to search on an author’s name. For example, Albert Schweitzer yields several pages of books, but by clicking on the name reduces the list to 18 items, including both English and German versions of The Quest.
You can read these books with the free Google Books app. I have had no problem reading, although there is no way to search the older books since they are page-scans. There is no note-taking feature, but I can switch to a notebook program fairly quickly. I would like the option to leave books “in the cloud” since I tend to binge on free old books and fill up my iPad quickly. You can shop the Google Book Store on your desktop computer, whatever you “purchase” will appear in the Google Books App.
Kindle. If you have an iPad, you need to get the free Kindle App. The Kindle Store is a part of Amazon, so if you can find books on Amazon, you can find them at the Kindle store. There are some deals to be had in the Kindle store, but not as many free books as Google. For example, The Quest for the Historical Jesus is free at Google, but at the Kindle store only modern reprints are available. Ernst Renen’s Life of Jesus is a free download, but neither the Plummer or Godet commentary found on Google books appears in the Kindle Store. More often than not, older books appear in the Kindle store at a small price. I noticed Alfred Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah for 99 cents. Most of Edersheim’s works are on Kindle for the same price, yet they also appear on the Internet Archive in Kindle format for free. Most (if not all) of Edersheim’s books are in the Google Bookstore for free. There are several “publishers” who appear to be converting public domain PDF files into Kindle books and selling them very cheap on Amazon. A few are described as “enhanced” since a table of contents has been added to aid navigation, but otherwise the text is identical. Given the phone-book size of Edersheim’s books, it might be worth a few dollars to have the index.
Internet Archive. I almost put this resource first since it is perhaps the largest collection of free texts on the Internet. Most texts are available in PDF and Kindle format as well as several other e-reader formats. I recommend you use DropBox, copy the PDF files there and then read them in CloudReader (Free, App Store) or Good Reader ($4.99, App Store). There are some real gems on the Internet Archive. For example, Mark Goodacre’s The Synoptic Problem is a first rate book, published in 2001 and recent released to the Internet Archive for free download in PDF or Kindle format. (You should go and download this book regardless of the platform you use to read it!) Notice that there is a topic link for synoptic problem and Q hypothesis. Click the “synoptic problem” to find 10 other books, including Ernest DeWitt Burton’s Some Principles of Literary Criticism (1903). Search for the Journal of Biblical Literature, quite a few of the earliest numbers are available.
The Internet Archive is not a reader, you will need to know how to move the files to a place where your iPad can read them, and then have the right app to read the file. Occasionally a PDF will not display on my iPad because of the way it was created. If it loads on your desktop, you need to re-save it with Acrobat and make sure the JPEG 2000 option is not selected. Another drawback is sheer wealth of material. Some items are scanned well, others are shoddy. Since the Internet Archive is an open-source and supports the creative commons, there are some oddities. I have found that occasionally books are linked to the Google Store, but this is not really a problem.
The bottom line is that you can fill your iPod (Android, Kindle) with hundreds of books, many of which are classics of scholarship albeit from a previous dispensation. I have found many books which I have never read simply because I could not find an affordable copy – that can no longer be an excuse! Since it is a great deal of fun poking around and finding rare books in these collections, I think that I will add a semi-regular feature on this blog highlighting the best “finds” in the online archives.