I just finished reading Steven Pinker’s wonderful new work, “The Better Angels of our Nature” on my wife’s (classic) Kindle. I had been looking forward to having the work on a digital reader, but my expectations were dashed by the error-prone and primitive nature of today’s reader technology. In brief, here are my primary complaints.
Pinker’s work is replete with graphs and charts. On the Kindle, these render poorly, ranging from barely readable to laughable. Since they are the core of the first half of the book, this is a significant limitation.
The rendering is poor. The distinction between optional (line-break) and mandatory hyphens is entirely lost, leading to words being squeezed together and requiring decryption by the reader. The footnote markers are sometimes rendered in a superscript (as would be expected), but often are just numbers stuffed into the current text line. Pages have large gaps and pointless line-breaks which break the reading flow unnecessarily.
You cannot link from a footnote reference to the footnote and back. I was shocked to find that the “Back” button doesn’t really go ‘back’ in a web browser sense. If I jump to a stored bookmark to re-read a page, ‘back’ doesn’t go back! Wow!
Almost the worst of all, this is a technical book, so its index and notes are very important. Yet the notes do not allow you to jump to their original pages and the index is entirely useless! In 2011 I would expect the index to have links to the actual references and allow me to iterate over the references to, say, Hobbes, looking for the quotation I wanted. Instead the index is just a list of words.
All in all, I won’t be buying any technical works on the Kindle in the foreseeable future. Unless the Kindle Fire significantly enhances rendering, page movement, footnotes, bookmarks and indexes, my advice is to stay with paper for books you respect. It may be fine for the latest bodice-ripper or serial killer tome, but for serious (or even amateur) scholarship it just isn’t ready for prime-time. How sad!