October 15th, 2014
Amazon’s just announced a big sale on their Kindle Fire HDX — a $20 discount! “Built for work and play” reads their headline, describing “the 7″ tablet with an with an ultra-fast quad-core processor, powerful graphics engine, world-class Dolby Audio, a perfect-color HDX display, and Mayday.” Now you can get a new one for just $179!
It used to cost $50 more when it was first released, but even then its reviews were amazing. “Far better than an iPad,” wrote one reporter at ZDNet, adding “what Apple bought to market, Amazon has improved upon dramatically.” Even at $229, its price was much lower, but there were also more tangible benefits too. “Side-by-side, the display on the Kindle Fire HDX blows away that of the iPad.
“Not only do the colors look superior and more vivid, but also the brightness is better and the way blacks are handled – especially in video – is much more even…”
Of course, Amazon has even cheaper tablets. I’m amazed that a Fire HD 6 now costs just $99, and the Fire HD 7 is just $139. But the HDX has a stunning high-definition display (with 323 pixels per inch), and a faster quad-core processor which makes it extra responsive. Even its battery will last 11 hours without a charge
But the best thing about the Kindle Fire HDX may be its special on-device “Mayday” button. You can actually summon a live Amazon representative whenever you want, so any technical issues can be resolved instantly. Yes, some Amazon customers abuse the privilege with silly questions like “Will you read me a bedtime story?” But when I’ve got a technical problem with my device, I want it gone just as soon as possible.
Because then I can go back to having fun with my high-definition tablet…!
October 8th, 2014
We all love reading Kindle ebooks, but today I noticed a very special page on Amazon. Their own editor’s had assembled a collection of what they considered the best new books of October. It’s a great selection of brand new books and Kindle ebooks — and a fun way to browser for something new to read..
Amazon’s editors even broke down their selections into 16 different categories. (There’s the best new biographies, children’s picture books, and even the best new Graphic Novels…) “We’re happy to share with you the unique mix of books that our editors have hand picked as this month’s best,” Amazon says at the top of the page. Here’s a look at some of their picks for the most interesting new ebooks of October.
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
His last book, Steve Jobs, became a record-breaking best-seller (based on 40 interviews between the author and Jobs over the last two years before his death). Now Walter Isaacson looks beyond Apple Computers to the other pioneers — both past and present. Steve Wozniak gets some attention, along with Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Tim Berners-Lee. But Isaacson also looks back to female pioneer Ada Lovelace who in the 1840s wrote about an “analytical engine” proposed by Charles Babbage — and also wrote the very first computer program.
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Maybe you remember him from How I Met Your Mother. (Or from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle…) But this Tuesday, Neil Patrick Harris takes his unpredictible personna to a whole new format. “Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened…reads his books description on Amazon. “Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the ” back in ‘aUtobiography’…?” Calling it “a Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative”, Harris has written an entire autobiography that’s written in the second person — all about you!
“You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.
“Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas…”
Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
After more than a decade, Anne Rice returns to her “Vampire Chronicles” series with a new 480-page novel about the vampire prince Lestat. “The newly resurrected, but no less rebellious, Lestat addresses a mysterious twenty-first century vampire genocide,” Amazon writes in their description of the book, “with the same panache, self-absorption, and drama readers have come to know and love. ” The book jumps from the present to the past, and its sprawling story “raises interesting questions about the boundaries of science, conflicting beliefs, and a universal need to belong”. Even more interesting, the book has already become Amazon’s best-selling suspense novels — three weeks before the book is released on October 28th!
“Go Add Value Someplace Else: A Dilbert Book” by Scott Adams
Scott Adams will release a brand new collection of Dilbert cartoons in just three weeks (on October 28th). And the Kindle edition is just $8.49. For past collections, at least some Amazon reviewers complained that the cartoons were hard to read on their small handheld Kindles. But comic strips have always looked great on the larger screens of Amazon’s Kindle full-color tablets — so hopefully this collection will find a happy audience of satisfied readers!
point your browser to
October 3rd, 2014
There’s some great discounts in the Kindle Store this month. Every month Amazon picks 100 Kindle ebooks for a steep discount, with most of the books selling for $1.99 or less! And this month there’s some ebooks that I’m really excited about.
A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers ($1.99)
“Exhilarating…. Profoundly moving, occasionally angry, and often hilarious…” wrote The New York Times Book Review — and this was one of the most intriguing memoirs I’ve ever read. A surprisingly funny and entertaining memoir about what happens to two sons when their parents both die of cancer, the Times writes that it “manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.” It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, according to Wikipedia, and The London Times also named it one of the best books of the entire decade. When it was first released in 2000, Time magazine called it “The Best Book of the Year”, and it’s one of those rare books that you’ll never forget.
Deadpool Classic, Vol. 1 ($3.99)
Marvel comic books are a guilty pleasure, so it’s great when they’re collected together into a big “graphic novel” for your Kindle. “Deadpool Classic” brings you 264 pages — nine full issues! — for just $3.99, starting with the four issues of Deadpool’s very first mini-series — and also the four issues of his next mini-series. Deadpool eventually got his own ongoing title, and this graphic novel also includes that as its final story. Like the She-Hulk, Deadpool actually “breaks the fourth wall,” talking directly to readers, which makes this collection a special treat. And if you’re interested in more Deadpool comics, Amazon’s also discounting another graphic novel — Deadpool: Dead Head Redemption — to just $3.99!
Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warrior by Stephen Ambrose ($1.99)
I’ve always loved how Stephen Ambrose describes history. Little Bighorn, Montana saw the moment when General Custer launched a his infamous attack on 3,000 Indian warriors led by native American war leader Crazy Horse. “Both were men of aggression and supreme courage,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. “Both became leaders in their societies at very early ages. Both were stripped of power, in disgrace, and worked to earn back the respect of their people.
“And to both of them, the unspoiled grandeur of the Great Plains of North America was an irresistible challenge….”
And if you’ve got a subscription to the Kindle Unlimited service, this ebook is free!
Classic Goosebumps #1: Night of the Living Dummy by R. L. Stine ($1.99)
Just in time for Halloween, Amazon’s discounting a great tale about a ventriloquist’s dummy. One reviewer on Amazon described it as children’s horror literature, adding that Night of the Living Dummy “is quite possibly the greatest Goosebumps book ever written…” That’s no small claim, since there’s over 60 different books in the series, and It’s hard to underestimate the huge popularity of the series. Over 350 million Goosebumps titles have been sold, and one newspaper even called their author the Stephen King of children’s books. So it’s especially nice that for Halloween, Amazon’s discounting one of the very first books in the series, which they’re lovingly describing as a “fan-favorite thriller and chiller”. (And it even includes new bonus material — about the scary ventriloquist dummy who comes to life…!)
September 30th, 2014
I love baseball — but even if you’re just looking for a good novel, there’s still some great Kindle ebooks about the drama behind the sport. It seems to attract a special brand of optimism, and some surprisingly thoughtful commentary. Words like “triumph” and “hope” are just fancy ways of saying that people fight hard over the course of a lifetime, to try to realize their dreams. And with this year’s post-season about to begin, here’s my picks for the very best Kindle ebooks about baseball.
Ball Four: the Final Pitch by Jim Bouton
I’ve always loved this rollicking memoir by a baseball player, which in 1970 became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues. And Amazon is now selling the Kindle edition of “Ball Four: The Final Pitch”, which includes a fascinating look back — more than 25 years later — by the book’s original author! Ball Four was extremely controversial when it was first published — simply because it was so shockingly candid. (Author Jim Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”)
Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.
Coach by Michael Lewis
The author of Moneyball also wrote this heartfelt memoir about his own high school baseball coach, and what young Michael Lewis had learned when he took the pitcher’s mound in a crucial 9th inning… Lewis remembers coach Fitz as “a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours.” The eighth grade students were afraid of him, and his intensity spawned legends about just how tough Coach Fitz really was. Yet when the pressure is finally on, “Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my should and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together… ” And by the end of the story, I was convinced that this 96-page book would make a wonderful gift for a teacher — or maybe even for anybody who’s a parent.
And again if you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, it’s free!
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
“From here on out, I rag on nobody…” It’s been called one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the movies, but it stems from a stunning 1956 novel. Author Mark Harris wrote four novels about the life of a major league catcher, but this is the novel that people always remember. Robert De Niro starred in the film adaptation — one of his first starring roles at the age of 30 — but the “voice” of the narrator in this novel is impossible to forget. There’s something about sports fiction that makes authors want to reach even further, and this novel follows the same path, describing a friendship between two men that grows slowly as they face an even bigger challenge beyond the baseball diamond.
Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck
This book contains one of my all-time favorite baseball stories, about the day that Eddie Gaedel stepped up to bat. Eddie Gaedel was 3′ 7″ — a midget — but the owner of the St. Louis Browns had snuck him onto the line-up card for the second game of a double-header. “Play ball!” the umpire roared, as the opposing team’s pitcher laughed and conferred with his catcher. (“Pitch him low,” the catcher joked — but the pitcher never could find the strike zone…) Eddie Gaedel walked to first base in his one only — giving him a lifetime perfect on-base percentage of 1.000. And decades later, the owner of that baseball team shared the full story — and dozen of others — with lots of humor and lots of insights drawn from lifetime spent in professional baseball.
It’s a great way to look on a century of great baseball stories — as the 2014 post-season begins!
September 26th, 2014
Now you can link your Twitter account to your Amazon wish list, and request those special gifts with just a hashtag! Whenever there’s an Amazon URL in a tweet, now just include #AmazonWishList in your reply — and Twitter and Amazon will make sure the item gets added to your wish list!
And Amazon’s also added more functionality to their Wish Lists. With its new “Save-A-Photo” feature, you can now take a picture — of anything — and then save it to your Amazon Wish List. In fact, now your Amazon wish list can even include items that you found on other shopping sites. There’s a new easy browser add-on that’s making it possible, which Amazon is calling “the Universal Wish List”.
But here’s my favorite feature: “Don’t Spoil My Surprises!” This lets you keep your Amazon wish list up-to-date for any friends who might shopping from it — but it won’t remove those items that were purchased when you’re looking at the list. That way, “every gift is truly a surprise,” Amazon explains in their press release. And you can even add a “Virtual Note” to your wish list, if you want to make general suggestions about what people should be buying you!
“Last year, one in three Amazon customers worldwide wished,” Amazon explains in a new press release, and the end result was more than 4.3 million “wish list” items being added every day. if Amazon maintained that pace for an entire year, it’d mean the addition of 1,576,800,000 wish list items in just one year!
Of course, Amazon’s gearing up for the big holiday shopping season. Just make sure you don’t add things to your wishlist by accident once you’ve connected it to your Twitter account. I can imagine someone sharing a ridiculous product’s URL on Twitter, like this giant Horse Head Mask. “#AmazonWishList ,” I might tweet back jokingly.
Only to discover that it’s actually been added to my Amazon Wish List!
September 19th, 2014
Amazon’s just introduced an adorable new high-definition tablet — for less than $99! Their new “Fire HD6″ tablet comes with brilliant high-def color (252 pixels per inch) , and it’s available with a 6-inch or 7-inch screen, “in five fun color choices.”
The six-inch edition is only $99, while the 7-inch version costs another $30 ($139). “Fire HD is the most powerful tablet under $100,” bragged Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. “The new Fire HD features a stunning HD display, quad-core processor, Dolby Digital Audio, front and rear-facing cameras, incredible reliability, and Amazon’s unmatched content ecosystem – all supported by Amazon customer service.”
I’m stunned that it costs just $99 and comes with two cameras — both front- and rear-facing — for two-way video conversations. But then again, I recently bought a 15.6-inch laptop computer for just $250. I joked to a friend that electronic parts have gotten so cheap, now we’re just trying our different configurations. Do you want a larger screen with a physical keyboard, or just a medium-sized tablet device with a touchscreen keyboard. Or, or course, a phone-sized device…
Which seems to be Amazon’s grand master plan. At 6 inches, the FireHD6 is just half an inch larger than the iPhone 6 Plus which Apple just released this week — and it’s $300 cheaper. Amazon is already touting the ability of their FireHD6 to make Skype calls…with video! And when you look past its calling capabilities, “Fire HD delivers a world-class entertainment experience,” according to Amazon’s press release, “with over 33 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, and Android apps and games…”
What’s really happening may be the beginning of a smart long-term plan. Amazon’s making it cheap and easy for customers to try out the Amazon “ecosystem”. Once you start buying your music and apps from Amazon, the theory goes, you won’t want to switch to another company’s device. Amazon makes it profit from the thing you’ll purchase with the device — all the apps and the ebooks and digital music and video content. That could explain why the prices are so cheap for the FireHD6, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Amazon was selling the devices “at cost”, or even at a small loss!
Because once you start spending your time with a FireHD6, they’re hoping that you’ll also start spending your money!
September 17th, 2014
I love Amazon’s Kindle ebooks sales — but this month selection seems unusually exciting. There’s famous authors (and famous characters), with new discounts on fiction, non-fiction, and even comic books. Amazon’s discounted over 100 Kindle ebooks to just $3.99 or less — including science fiction, biographies, and thrillers.
Here’s some of the most interesting selections…
John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman ($1.99)
This 800-page biography seems like it’s full of everything you want to know about the music legend — both before and after The Beatles. After three years of research, author Philip Norman apparently interviewed everyone who really knew John Lennon, according to the book’s description at Amazon, including Lennon’s own son Sean “whose moving reminiscence reveals his father as never before.” Norman also obtained rare interviews with Paul McCartney, George Martin, and Yoko Ono, “who speaks with sometimes shocking candor about the inner workings of her marriage to John.” And I have to admit that this book’s description is intriguing, calling it “Honest and unflinching, as John himself would wish…the whole man in all his endless contradictions…”
Easy Go by Michael Crichton ($1.99)
It’s a fun and fascinating novel from one of this century’s greatest literary careers. Just two years after making his debut at the age of 27, Michael Crichton imagined a fantastic story set in Egypt about an archaeologist who discovers ancient tomb filled with vast riches. There’s just one problem, according to Amazon. “He doesn’t just want to dig it up. He wants to steal it.” Soon our hero has teamed up with a smuggler, a thief, and an English lord to attempt history’s greatest heist — and of course, they’re walking right into a novel filled with danger. “Part Heist caper with some Indiana Jones mixed in,” writes one reviewer at Amazon, adding ” It would have made a great action movie….”
The Best American Short Stories 2013 by Elizabeth Strout ($2.99)
This collection is “wildly divergent and entertaining,” according to Booklist, “and each story is cultivated with a keen eye for voice and character…” I’ve always loved these collections of short fiction, and this year’s may be the best one yet (already becoming one of Amazon’s top 500 best-selling Kindle ebooks). “As our vision becomes more global,” explains this year’s guest editor, “our storytelling is stretching in many ways. Stories increasingly change point of view, switch location, and sometimes pack as much material as a short novel might.” That’s Elizabeth Strout, who also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the editor of this series simply describes this collection as “twenty compellingly told, powerfully felt stories about urgent matters with profound consequences….”
Daredevil, Vol. 1 by Mark Waid ($3.99)
Marvel Comic books are hard to find in Amazon’s Kindle Store — but they do have a great selection of graphic novels. And with new interest in The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy, let’s not forget one of Marvel’s classic and most inspiring superheroes. Matt Murdock is “the man without fear,” and one comic book fan on Amazon describes this collection of six 2011 issues as “an incredible read, one of the best today!” (“If you like the fun of Spider-Man, but get a little tired of the self-deprecating humor or you love Batman, but don’t want to be bogged down by loads of continuity or maybe you just want to find something that’s both fun and thrilling all in the same place, do yourself a favor and pick this up!”)
And if you’re looking for more Marvel graphic novels, Amazon’s also discounted Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People to just $3.99!
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s ebook discounts, point your browser to
September 13th, 2014
The war is on — which smartphone will win? Or is Apple really trying to fight Amazon’s Kindle Fire? It’s fun to watch two giant tech companies trying to out-do each other by creating even more exciting new gadgets. But at some point you have to ask: which fight are we really watching? Did Apple just release a new phone, or a new tablet?!
But my response would be that it doesn’t matter. I always think of the long-term war between Apple and Microsoft. Actually, I remember the way it was acted out in the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”. It ends with Steve Jobs confronting Bill Gates over Microsoft’s plans to take over the market for personal computers. Microsoft succeeded, but I like to think that Steve Jobs personally calculated the strategy that would one day help Apple reclaim the lead.
The storyline looks like this. Steve Jobs knows that computers will get smaller and smaller, and eventually “computing” will be mostly practiced on tiny devices that we’d hold in our hands. So back in 2001, Apple releases their first iPod, and quickly carves out a niche in “fresh territory”. The iPod gets better and better, and within 6 years, Apple adds the ability to make phone calls to their handheld devices — and also the ability to run apps. And what was the iPad, really, but a big iPhone, for running apps on a giant screen?
There’s debate now about whether you can really replace a personal computer with a handheld device, but it’s undeniable that people love owning a tablet. Amazon, of course, has been selling Kindles for the last 7 years, and they introduced their own line of multimedia tablets in 2011. But the Kindle Fire may just have been a defensive move by Amazon — to make sure Apple didn’t lure away everyone who wanted to read ebooks on a handheld device.
And then Amazon launched an offensive move — releasing a smartphone of their own. The Fire Phone was even discounted massively this week, from $199 apiece to just 99 cents (with a two-year service contract). But I’m still wondering if we’re missing the real battle that Amazon is fighting here. The Fire Phone comes with a “Firefly” feature which makes it easy to instantly purchase items (using your Amazon account to automatically handle all the billing). Maybe Amazon isn’t worried about losing customer’s who’d buy ebooks, digital readers, or even handheld tablets.
Maybe Amazon’s worried about losing ground in the war for all commerce — the ability to handle every payment that gets made on a mobile device.
September 9th, 2014
One of the founders of the dating site “OK Cupid” just released a new book — and it reveals some stunning insights about how people live today. (And Amazon’s discounting the Kindle edition to just $6.99.) After 10 years of running OKCupid, Christian Rudder has crunched the data to uncover some surprisingly clear patterns about what people really want. The title of his book? Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)
“Tonight, some thirty thousand couples will have their first date because of OkCupid,” Rudder writes in the book’s introduction. “Roughly three thousand of them will end up together long-term. Two hundred of those will get married, and many of them, of course, will have kids.” It seems like just one out of every 150 dates will end in marriage, I thought at first. But then I realized: that’s happening every night — so 73,000 marriages each year are beginning with OKCupid dates!
“There are children alive and pouting today,” jokes the site’s founder, “grouchy little humans refusing to put their shoes on right now, who would never have existed but for the whims of our HTML.” And Rudder used to maintain a blog on their dating site that was called “OKTrends” — interesting observations about what patterns they were observing — according to Wikipedia. Rudder only stopped writing the blog in order to collect the same kind of information into this book. And according to one reviewer at Amazon, “This book may be to Data Science…what Freakonomics was to Economics…”
So what did he learn? Rudder revealed one fascinating experiment in July. OKCupid tried blatantly lying about the compatability of online dates, telling customers they’d discovered someone who matched 90% of their dating criteria…when they’d actually only matched 30%. (And to test the opposite, OKCupid told some customers that they’d also found people matching a mere 30% of their criteria — when, secretly, those people were actually a 90% match!) The results? Users sent more messages –at least “a conversation” of four — when they believed there was compatibility. Their own interactions weren’t always enough to convince them to keep those conversations going….and they put more faith in the numbers from the web site!
And surprisingly, people were much more likely to take a chance on e-mailing a person when there were no pictures available to judge how attractive they were….
Christian Rudder graduated from Harvard with a degree in math, according to The New York Times, calling Rudder the “Unblushing Analyst of Attraction” for OKCupid. And there is a stunningly geeky frankness in the infographics he’s released in advance of the book. For example, Rudder reports that the most sexually-aggressive states in America are Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Ohio and New Hampshire are the states least interested in sex and most interested in finding love…
Of course, there’s also a startling confession in Rudder’s book. “I’ve never been on an online date in my life and neither have any of the other founders…” So he’s not trying to push people to their web site, “and if it’s not for you, believe me, I get that.
“Tech evangelism is one of my least favorite things!”
September 5th, 2014
“Today Only,” read the special announcement on Amazon. Friday they’d slashed the prices on the Kindle Fire HD to just $129!
But a more interesting question is why is Amazon offering massive discounts on their high-definition tablet?
First, it’s a refurbished version, but that doesn’t explain everything. And the second clue is that Amazon seems to running out of their basic $69 Kindle. “Expected to ship in 1 to 2 weeks,” reads the text Amazon quietly slipped onto their web page. Why the sudden dramatic shifting in Amazon’s inventory of Kindles?
Of course, one theory is that Amazon’s about to announce a new Kindle. They usually schedule these announcements in September, to build up anticipation for the devices they’ll be releasing right before the big shopping season after Thanksgiving. So Amazon, the theory goes, is making room for all these new Kindles. Which they’re going to have to store someplace while they wait for new customers to order them…
What will Amazon announce? They’ll want to upgrade their tablets to keep up with their new competition. Maybe Amazon will add the Firefly button, and the other cool new features that they introduced with their Fire Phone. Besides being fun to play with, those features also made it easier to buy more things from Amazon.
So my guess is Amazon will include it on as many devices as possible!
August 31st, 2014
Amazon’s discounting the newest book by XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe by up to 50% — and it’s already become one of their best-selling books! It’s available as Kindle ebook for just $11.99 — a 50% discount from its cover price of $24 — if you pre-order before its official release this week. Even the hardcover edition has been discounted by 40% (to just $14.40)!
And in other news, “I’m excited to announce that I’ll be going on a book tour!” the author posted recently on his blog. When the book is finally released Tuesday, he’ll be appearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Harvard Book Store. Then on Friday it’s New York City, for the Barnes and Noble at Union Square. Within four days, he’ll be appearing in Seattle (at Town Hall), for a Tuesday night appearance which is already sold out. And by Thursday and Friday, it’s San Francisco and Berkeley, for two appearances which are both, also, already sold out…
Amazingly, his book has already jumped onto Amazon’s best-seller list even though it hasn’t been released yet, grabbing different spots in the top 10 throughout this weekend. (Currently it’s ranked #9 on Amazon’s list of hardcover best-sellers– higher than To Kill a Mockingbird and The Fault in Our Stars…) “This title will be auto-delivered to your Kindle on September 2, 2014,” Amazon advises shoppers, promising them the best of both worlds. You can still claim the huge pre-order discount — and then receive the ebook on Tuesday!
What’s even more amazing is it became a best-seller at Amazon five months ago. When the XKCD creator first announced this title, it became Amazon’s #2 most popular hard-cover book. “It’s like a surreal story from one of the author’s own comic strips,” I wrote in March. “In our yet-to-happen future, his book decides to travel backwards through time, stopping off in March of 2014 to inform Amazon’s best-seller list that yes, in our coming timeline this book will be widely read.” And ironically, the book’s title is What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. (Like what would happen if you threw a baseball at 90% of the speed of light…? )
I thought it was nice of the author to include a “Google Hangout” on his book tour. On Friday September 12th, he’ll appear in the live online chat (though questions will be limited to four carefully-chosen fans…) Then there’s one more stop in Santa Monica, before he returns home to continue drawing his comic strip.
And yes, Amazon is also selling a collection of his popular comic strip –though that book is only available in hardcover…
Remember, for a shortcut to his book’s page — and the earlier collection of
the author’s comic strips — point your browser to
August 29th, 2014
I almost forgot to check Amazon’s regularly-scheduled monthly sale of ebooks. (“Each month we unveil a new collection of Kindle books for $3.99 or less…”) And Amazon’s also offering especially attractive discounts when you purchase an audiobook and its Kindle version together. They’ve discounted more than 75 audiobook/ebook pairs to less than $8.00!
The discounts always disappear on the last day of the month, so this month that’d be Sunday, August 31st. (Which means if you re-visit the URL on Monday — September 1st — there’ll be an entirely new selection to choose from!) I always love the variety of choices — and this month there’s some unusually good choices.
Here’s some of the more interesting titles.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson ($1.99)
The science fiction maestro behind Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon delivers another mind-blowing piece of “speculative fiction”. Set on the planet Arbre, it describes a haven for intellectuals — the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers of a strange civilization — who suddenly find themselves facing “cataclysmic change” (according to the book’s description at Amazon). The sprawling adventure fills over 1000 pages in its print edition — the audiobook runs a full 32 hours and 30 minutes. But thanks to Amazon’s special pricing, you can get that audiobook for just $3.99 when you purchase the ebook for $1.99 — making the whole combined package just $6.00.
The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman ($1.99)
Sarah Silverman shocks audiences with her fierce, raw jokes — and her latest book was no exception. “From the outrageously filthy and oddly innocent comedienne Sarah Silverman comes a memoir – her first book – that is at once shockingly personal, surprisingly poignant, and still pee-in-your-pants funny,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. But The Bedwetter also pulls back the curtain to reveal a little true information about Sarah, according to one reviewer at Amazon. “I expected this book to be hilarious, and it is… What I didn’t expect were the sensitivity and sincerity that Sarah has brought to both the writing of the book and to its glimpses behind the scenes into her personal life and the thoughtfulness behind the humor.”
And the audiobook — read by Sarah Silverman — is only $3.99 (when you also purchase the Kindle ediition for $1.99). For 5 hours and 42 minutes, she reads her own memoir out loud, and I even found myself laughing as she read the book’s copyright information with her classic deadpan enthusiasm. “Harper Audio presents The Bedwetter…by Sarah Silverman. Read by, Sarah Silverman. Me! Copyright 2010 by Sarah Silverman…. Dedication: for my family. I am so proud to be a part of us… A few names have been changed so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings or get sued…”
Dead Man’s Folly: Hercule Poirot Investigates by Agatha Chrstie ($1.99)
“Agatha Christie’s Poirot” appeared for nearly 25 years on British television, with 70 episodes that introduced audiences to a brilliant but quirky Belgian detective (played by David Suchet). So it’s a real treat that David Suchet himself reads the audiobook edition for Dead Man’s Folly: Hercule Poirot Investigates. The audiobook is just $3.99 when you purchase the $1.99 Kindle edition.) And I always think of this book as one of Agatha Christie’s most personal mysteries…
It’s the story of a “murder party” — where people gather to solve a mock crime (which inevitably turns into a real one…) Hercule Poirot straddles the line between fact and fiction, in a story which Agatha Christie wrote to raise money for a local church’s fundraiser. They were raising money to purchase a stained glass window, but in the end, Christie gave them the proceeds from an entirely different story about her other famous detective, Miss Marple. And then she expanded this story into a full-length Hercule Poirot novel!
When Rolling Stone‘s contributing editor published his first book, it was a stunning story about his early days as a DJ — and falling in love with another DJ named Renée Crist. The ’90s were the decade “of Kurt Cobain and Shania Twain,” jokes the book’s description at Amazon, adding “It was also when a shy music geek named Rob Sheffield met a hell-raising Appalachian punk-rock girl named Renée, who was way too cool for him but fell in love with him anyway.
“He was tall. She was short. He was shy. She was a social butterfly. She was the only one who laughed at his jokes when they were so bad, and they were always bad. They had nothing in common except that they both loved music…” Sheffield himself reads the book’s audiobook version — $3.99 when you also purchase the $3.99 Kindle edition — and when he looks back on the memories of his late wife, you sense a tenderness and the emotion that compelled him to pull together this book.
“In Love Is a Mix Tape, Rob, now a writer for Rolling Stone, uses the songs on fifteen mix tapes to tell the story of his brief time with Renée… Love Is a Mix Tape isn’t a love song- but it might as well be. This is Rob’s tribute to music, to the decade that shaped him, but most of all to one unforgettable woman.”
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August 27th, 2014
I loved all the personal stories that Jeff Bezos shared in a speech I found on the web last week. He delivered the speech in 2001 to an audience of young aspiring entrepreneurs. And at one point, he shares a fond remembrance of the library where he’d read books as a teenager — and reveals his favorite book.
His parents were in the audience that day, and Jeff Bezos remembers one important fact about his own childhood. “My parents will attest to the fact that I was difficult to punish as a child, because I was quite happy to be grounded — to stay in my room and read!” But then one member of the audience asked him a personal question. You sell a lot of books — but do you ever read them?
Jeff answers yes, but then surprises the audience by revealing that to this day, at least half of the books he reads are science fiction. It seems logical, since he grew up to be a successful and celebrated visionary — but he traces his preference to the summers he spent on his grandfather’s ranch. His grandfather lived in Texas, and Bezos spent some summers there as a teenager, in a tiny town of 3,000 people — with its own tiny library. Books were donated by the townspeople, and a third of the collection was science fiction, “because there was this one guy in town who loved science fiction.”
Decades later, maybe that was in his mind when he made his fateful decision to start Amazon.com. He’d made a list of 26 possible products — “the first, best product to sell online” — studying a list of all the top products being sold by mail order. There was clothing, music, videos, computer software and hardware. And it’s fascinating to see that in the years since, Amazon has since gone on to sell all of them…
But were those science fiction books in his mind when he decided that the first product they’d sell would be books? Bezos listed out the practical business case for an online bookstore “There are literally millions of different books in print at any given time, and computers are good at organizing such large selections of products. You could build something online that literally couldn’t be built any other way.” (Imagine trying to print a paper catalog with every title, Bezos tells the crowd or a physical bookstore with copies of everything!)
After all that, Jeff Bezos still loves curling up with a good science fiction book, he tells the crowd, saying it still accounts for at least half of the books he reads. But then he reveals to the audience what his favorite novel is. Remains of the Day — the story of a butler who looks back over his life wondering if he missed an opportunity which will never come again. The 1989 book is an award-winning literary novel, but it would never be described as science fiction. “My wife inflicts good fiction on me every once in a while,” he jokes to the audience.
“Which I always end up loving…”
August 22nd, 2014
I love these big discounts Amazon’s offering on Kindle ebooks. (Up to 85% off on over 400 books — but only through August 24th). There’s hundreds of fun and fascinating titles — and cheap enough that it’s easy to try something new!
Here’s a few more of the most interesting titles…
Five Perry Mason Novels ($1.99 each)
The famous lawyer/detective frees the innocent in five of the original mystery novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. Amazon’s discounted each one to just $1.99 — and they’re free if you’re a subscriber to Amazon’s “Kindle Unlimited” program. There’s The Case of the Haunted Husband and The Case of the Sulky Girl — in a series which made Erle Stanley Gardner one of America’s all-time best-selling authors. Over 50 Perry Mason mysteries have now been published as Kindle ebooks — each one with a lurid cover that celebrates the glory days of pulp fiction. There’s also The Case of the Angry Mourner and The Case of the Fugitive Nurse. And it’s impossible not to be intrigued by an ebook titled The Case of the Grinning Gorilla!
I’ll Fly Away by Wally Lamb ($1.99)
His first novel, She’s Come Undone was a best-seller — and so was his second novel, written six years later — I Know This Much Is True. But Wally Lamb also has a remarkable story about stories — the ones written by the inmates at a women’s prison in Connecticut. Since 1999 he’s worked at the York Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison, where he learned that writing “was a way for these women to face their fears and failures and begin to imagine better lives,” according to the book’s description at Amazon. “Startling, heartbreaking, and inspiring, these stories are as varied as the individuals who wrote them, but each illuminates an important core truth: that a life can be altered through self-awareness and the power of the written word.”
Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape by Mark Lee Gardener ($1.99)
Mark Lee Gardner is one of my favorite writers about “the old West.” He looks at America through the eyes of its outlaws, capturing the world they lived in and the larger forces that were shaping their time. Jesse James committed the most famous bank robbery of all time, according to this book’s description at Amazon, and Gardner gives the thief the same thoughtful appraisal that he brought to his previous book about Billy the Kid. “With compelling details that chronicle the two-week chase that followed — the near misses, the fateful mistakes, and the bloody final shootout on the Watonwan River, Shot All to Hell is a galloping true tale of frontier justice…”
Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order by Noam Chomsky ($3.03)
At the age of 71, Noam Chomsky penned a sharp critique of the world’s political (and economic) structure which was apparently ahead of its time. Written in 1999, this book uncovers the roots of the fiscal crisis of 2008, according to the book’s description at Amazon, which adds that “In the years since the initial publication of Profit Over People, the stakes have only risen…” Howard Zinn would call the book “brilliant and devastating…a powerful rush of facts and ideas,” and it offers a new perspective on the free market that my high school economics teacher kept talking about. “Now more than ever, Profit Over People is one of the key texts explaining how the crisis facing us operates,” claims the book’s description, “and how, through Chomsky’s analysis of resistance, we may find an escape from the closing net…”
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August 20th, 2014
Last year Amazon’s revenue was $74 billion. So it’s fascinating to remember when the company was just 10 people…and a dream. Today I stumbled across a remarkable video on YouTube showing Jeff Bezos — the founder of Amazon — describing its early days, their shared struggles, and the one idea which kept them going.
The funniest part of the speech is when Jeff Bezos takes the stage, he jokes to the audience that his name is Garth Vegan. “I’m going to be speaking to you about choreography,” he continues, before launching into his story. But it is a different Bezos than we’re used to seeing. The speech was delivered 13 years ago, in 2001 — when the founder of Amazon was still a young man in his 30s…
Jeff remembers when his company wasn’t even called Amazon. Its original name was Cadabra, Inc — as in Abracadabra. But he changed his mind when a lawyer mistook its name for “Cadaver, Inc.” He knew he needed something better — because he was risking his career to take a chance on the promise of online shopping.
His wife was in the audience that day, and Jeff remembered that “She had married a relatively stable person — goofy, but relatively stable — working at a law firm.” When she’d married him, Jeff had a nice steady job at a Wall Street hedge fund, so “This was a hard decision…” In fact, most of Amazon’s original employees kept their day jobs while they spent their nights filling the orders that would come in to the company.
Their first “distribution center” that was just 400 square feet — about the size of a one-car garage — when one of the engineers said “I can’t figure out if this is incredibly optimistic — or hopelessly pathetic.” And Bezos didn’t know. There was no way to know how customers would respond. But I love the way Jeff Bezos ultimately came to his decision, using what he described as a “regret-minimization” framework. You project yourself to the age of 80, and then try to minimize the number of regrets you’ll have when you’re looking back over your life…
“If I go do this thing, and participate in this thing called the internet, that I genuinely believe is going to be a big deal — and if I fail, am I going to regret having tried and failed?” Jeff Bezos knew that the answer was no. And he also knew that he’d always regret it if he didn’t try. “I would always wonder, and it would haunt me…”
As Jeff spoke, he acknowledged that his parents were also in the audience that day — and they were also one of his web site’s very first supporters. He told the crowd they’d invested “a reasonably large fraction” of their life savings — over $300,000 — into their son’s dream. And it was pretty much faith. “My dad’s first question was… What’s the internet?!”
They weren’t betting on any grand vision, Bezos explains. They were betting on their son. And he’d also confessed to them at the time that there was at least a 70% chance that they were going to lose it all. But in the first 30 days, the site got orders from all 50 U.S. states — plus 45 other countries. They couldn’t handle the volume, and expanded quickly — into a 2,000-square-foot basement warehouse.
Its ceiling was only six feet high — and one of their employees was 6′ 2″, so he couldn’t stand in the room without tilting his head to the side! Bezos himself would drive the packages to a UPS shipping facility — tapping on the glass when he was let to beg them to let him drop off his shipment. And they’d package the orders together — on their knees on the cement floor. Bezos remembers his first insight at Amazon was we ought to be wearing knee pads. Although he credits another employee for coming up with an even better idea. What they really needed was packing tables…
Looking back on those early days, Bezos remembers those overloaded weeks as one of the luckiest things that ever happened them. Not the spike in orders, but the challenge itself, which they had to learn to accept. “It formed a culture of customer service — in every department, every single person in the company — because we had to work with our hands so close to the customers, making sure that those orders went out.”
“It really set up a culture that’s served us well, and that is our goal to be earth’s most customer-centric company.”
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