The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Million Book Project turns up some gems

I've mentioned before [1] this treasure-house of etexts.

Embodying the essential net principle of serendipity, one might think of it as an out-of-the-way secondhand bookshop, rather seedy and disorganised, but with gems to be found.

Since most of the stock seems to come from Indian libraries, there is plenty of material on the subcontinent, during the British Raj in particular [2]. Also books on the Near and Middle East.

A fair bit of material on British political and social history - in particular, in relation to the two world wars. And some on US history.

Mostly odd volumes - three or four of Arnold Toynbee's [3] The Study of History, for instance - demand a Ninth Beatitude approach [4].

Search is generally fruitless: better to browse the lists of titles in the same spirit (and with the same expectation level) of working the shelves in that bookshop.

At the moment, I'm reading George Dangerfield's 1936 The Strange Death Of Liberal England on the bizarre period of British politics from 1910 to 1914 which should have ended in civil war had not Kaiser Wilhelm not sportingly intervened with the offer of an away fixture.

(It's good knockabout stuff - inter-generational sarcasm along the lines of Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. The way Dangerfield tells it, the mass suicide of the House of Lords makes the Clinton impeachment look like wise statesmanship!)

I see that John Gunther's Inside USA is also available, as is Kenneth Clark's Civilisation book (from the TV series) and Theodore Sorensen's Kennedy bio (a boon for insomniacs).

Most non-fiction works are out of date or essentially ephemera - wherein lies their value - as, for instance, a series of lectures on Germany and England by one JA Cramb delivered in early 1913.

Which is not say that one can't find the material in dead-tree form; but then moolah would have to change hands (twelve bucks for the Cramb, for instance), which mostly isn't going to happen.

(An upcoming classic, if it materialises, is GP Cuttino's English Diplomatic Administration(1259-1339).)

  1. On June 29 and July 3.

  2. There is also loads of stuff in Indian languages jumbled in which the books in English.

  3. The indexing has one of them by a Mr Tonybee! Non-maternal speakers, plus a shoestring budget, I suspect.

  4. The rather better organised Gallica of the BNF also suffers from inexplicable missing volumes in their sets - a strange run of Rymer's Foedera from 6 to 16 of 20, for instance. And major tech problems with downloading that have been going on for months.


The Million Book Project have tech problems of their own. Some of the links to the DjVu files (ideological Format Wars alert!) are screwed, with only a few pages of the book actually online. (For some reason, the DjVu reader does not reject these files as damaged, as you'd expect the Acrobat reader to do with a duff PDF file.)

If a file is showing a byteage less than, say, 5MB, chances are you're only going to be downloading part of the book. (One link actually shows 0KB - go figure...)

Point to ponder: if the site was really well-organised and snafu-less, chances are traffic would go through the roof and the site would go under or cease to be free. All those Telegu texts and bad files keep the party small. And that's a good thing.

Hope no one's reading this. As if that would happen...

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