Last year I found a fun way to celebrate the America’s “Independence Day” with my Kindle. On the 4th of July, I’d pointed my Kindle to Wikipedia’s web page with a fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Just seven months before the famous document was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do.
“But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”
Wikipedia walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — but you don’t have to content yourself with a Wikipedia for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, another American patriot — Benjamin Franklin — began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life. More than 200 years later, it’s become one of the best-selling free e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store. Franklin had continued working on his biography over the last 20 years of his life, until his death at age 84 in 1790 — noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…”
It’s especially poignant that Benjamin Franklin began writing it in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But soon Franklin’s son had sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts in the year 1784 about his the ideas for…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembered inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining to patent the invention because he’d created it for “the good of the people.”
His biography is currently one of Amazon’s top 30 free ebooks, so I’m obviously not the only person who’s reading it this weekend. It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution? And it just goes to show you that with a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the realities of our past…
Last year I’d discovered that it was impossible to find a free copy in Amazon’s Kindle store — but in 2011, there’s now a free copy available for downloading (as well as a free copy of the U. S. Constitution). Currently the Declaration of Independence has received two five-star reviews from Amazon customers (“As a graduate student in philosophy and history, I heartily recommend this timeless classic to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history…”) — while the free version of the Constitution received only four and a half. (“Accurate reproduction and free, but does not include any amendments…”)
But there’s also a fascinating story about how the Declaration of Independence first came online. 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.
But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 40 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?