At this point, we’ve thought about several different ways to expand the material you have at your disposal for research. We’ve discussed using
- Libraries generally near you,
- Specifically your school’s library, and
- Online repositories like Internet Archive, books.logos.com, and Google Books.
Another potentially helpful resource is Amazon.
Amazon as Bookseller
Of course, on Amazon, you can buy books often at very competitive prices. But, in keeping with our emphasis on expanding your library for minimal cost, buying books on Amazon won’t be our focus here.
Instead, when you go to a physical bookstore, one of the best things to be able to do is to crack open a book and read a bit in it for yourself.
Amazon originally focused on selling books but has now obviously expanded quite a ways beyond that. Even so, they’ve still tried to mimick the experience of opening a book physically and looking at its contents.
Here enter the “Look inside” option on the upper-right hand corner of where the cover picture appears on a given book’s page.
Not every book has a “Look inside” option. This is particularly true if it’s a new or prerelease title. But many titles will have this option.
Simply click the cover to “pick up” the book and start previewing it.
Most helpful here are the links under the “Book sections” menu at the left. Sometimes these are a bit different, but generally what you’ll find are things like:
- Copyright: This link takes you directly to the copyright information page in the front of the book.
- Table of Contents: Obviously, being able to see a table of contents for a volume can be particularly helpful. Whether you want to know where to go next, whether to order the book, or what section to request via inter-library loan, the table of contents gives you a good synopsis. Often, the table of contents has links to individual sections within the book as well.
- First Pages: Just as it sounds, this link takes you directly to the first few pages in the volume. This might be the preface, forward, introduction, or first chapter. It just depends on how the links are done for that individual volume.
- Index: If the volume has an index, you can click this link to jump there.
- Back Cover: If you’re interested in endorsements for the volume or information about the author, you can use this link to jump to the back cover, which will often have information like this. In hardback books with dust covers, sometimes you’ll see links for the front and back flaps in addition to or instead of a back cover link.
- Surprise Me!: This link mimics the experience of flipping open a book at random and looking at whatever you happen to find there.
As with Google, Amazon’s previews will only show you some of the pages in a given book due to copyright law.
Even so, there are several scenarios where Amazon’s “Look inside” option can give you helpful information about a volume or its contents.
- With the copyright page preview, you can confirm bibliographic data. For instance, if you’ve inter-library loaned a chapter from a book and haven’t gotten all the publication information you need for that title, this can be a good way to fill in what’s missing for your citation or bibliography.
- From the table of contents, you can jump to read various sections of a book, or as much of those sections as the preview allows you to see.
- If you use the index or have found a reference to a given page and want to see that page, you can try typing the page number into the “Search Inside This Book” box. This won’t always give you the page you’re looking for, and sometimes you need to look through a longer list of places in the book where the same number occurs. But by searching for the page number or another keyword, you’ll often be able to turn up a page or section that you need even if it’s not directly linked in the table of contents or the index.
- If you already have a copy of the book, you can use the “Search Inside This Book” box to help you find that quotation you half remember but can’t seem to turn up again in your physical copy.
- You might find that Amazon allows you to preview different pages than Google Books does, or vice versa. So, can’t preview what you need with one, it might be worth searching the other.
In the end, the same caution applies to Amazon as we mentioned with Google Books. You always want to be sure you haven’t inadvertently misunderstood an argument simply because you’ve only read the portions of it that are available in an online preview.
That being said, Amazon’s previews can make it easier for you to access some parts of some of the books you need for your research.
A hammer isn’t a substitute for a screw driver, but that doesn’t mean you can only ever use a screw driver. Similarly, while neither Amazon’s nor Google’s previews substitute for having a fuller copy of an argument all together, they can be valuable in making certain kinds of research jobs easier than they would have been otherwise.
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