A Review of Scribd’s Subscription eBook Service

Photo of a Hallway with Bookshelves Against One Wall and Lights Hanging from Ceiling

Introduction

[ This review replaces an earlier and much more positive review I had written about Scribd. ūüôĀ ]

I love books! I frequent libraries and bookstores and love the books I keep on our shelves at home. I’m also a big fan of subscription services and have been using some of them since their earliest days (Netflix, Dollar Shave Club). So when you offer me (e)books in a subscription format I’m eager to give it a try.

In the past I’ve subscribed to Amazon Kindle Unlimited (at least twice) but found that while the collection is huge the quality is lacking. Sure, there are tons of good books, but for every good book there seems to be a dozen worthless ones. I just haven’t had good luck finding books I wanted to read with Kindle Unlimited.

NOTE: I read almost exclusively nonfiction, so for those looking for fiction volumes, Kindle Unlimited may be a good choice, I just can’t speak from personal experience!

The Good

Where Scribd hits it out of the ballpark for me is in the quality and number of books on topics I’m interested in. For example, their religion/theology section is AWESOME.

And from a cursory glance Scribd seems to hit most of the core functionality needed in an ebook service:

  • Accessible via the web.
  • Dedicated mobile app.
  • Create lists of ebooks.
  • Create highlights and notes.
  • Remember last page read.
  • Robust search.
  • Browsable library.

In addition Scribd offers access to a significant library of audio books and magazines and while not my primary concern, this is certainly a nice feature!

The Bad

Unfortunately, as I’ve spent more time with Scribd, I’ve found the service has a few really significant faults. While I’m still subscribed at the moment I’m planning to cancel soon. I hope they’ll rectify these issues in the near future and I’ll be happy to resubscribe. It is a service with so much potential!

Lists That Forget

I love making lists – so I make lists of books I want to read. I began doing so on Scribd but ran into a problem. When I hit ~500 books on my lists, Scribd begins silently dropping the books I added first to the list! There is no warning, it just happens.

I’ve confirmed with Scribd that this is the service functioning as expected and while they are considering changing this, I haven’t seen any change in the months I’ve been using the service nor have I heard that there are definite intentions to do so.

Highlighting Limitations

If you need to highlight text on a single page things work well but if you want to highlight across multiple pages to create a single continuous highlight you can’t. You have to create multiple highlights. This is basic functionality included with Amazon’s Kindle and something I’ve come to expect, its lack is quite frustrating…though if this was the only problem with highlighting, I’d make do.

To the above you can add issues with memory utilization on mobile. If you make multiple highlights using the Scribd app it becomes progressively slower and more difficult to highlight. Exiting the app and reopening it resolves this issue, but this occurs fairly quickly and if you are doing highlighting with any frequency you will be closing and reopening the app regularly.

Perhaps I could live with both of these, but when combined with a third issue – the inability to see highlights/notes in a single place – I’m just not willing to deal with that many problems (and with such basic functionality)!

Goodbye Highlights/Notes When Book Expires

Highlights/notes seem to be tied specifically to each volume, so when a book is removed from the service one loses all the highlights/notes associated with the book. This is absolutely unacceptable.

In addition, I am concerned about whether Scribd also silently deletes highlights/notes after some magical number as it does with saved lists. Are highlights/notes being silently deleted as I make new ones?

There are some services such as Suprada Urval’s Exifile which allow you to export notes/highlights and I’m incredibly thankful for Suprada creating such a utility, but even this utility requires us to go into each book we have highlights/notes to perform an export. This isn’t Suprada’s fault, its part of the limitations of Scribd mentioned above.

Is It Worth It?

I was quite excited about Scribd when it was first released, but I’m pretty disappointed now. Depending on the sort of reader you are, Scribd may still be a good choice – for me though it has fatal flaws. I’m hoping Scribd will resolve these issues and I’ll be able to write a glowing review in the near future.

What do you think? Do you use Scribd? Have you found another subscription service you prefer?

Photo by Janko Ferlińć on Unsplash

The Commandant by Rudolph Hoess (Book Review)

Photo of Rudolf Hoess

Photo of Rudolf Hoess
Photo of Rudolf Hoess, the infamous commander of Auschwitz, and the author of this book.

Rudolph Hoess was the SS Commandant over the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II. Under his direction well over a million would die (Eichmann claimed 2.5 million!). These were not primarily enemy combatants but civilians – men, women, and children (primarily Jews).

Hoess wrote about his time at Auschwitz, not only what he did but how he thought and felt. This particular edition entitled The Commandant has been edited by Jurg Amann for length and clarity. It is a small volume of only 111 pages.

I found it highly disturbing, anxiety inducing, stomach churning – in other words, just what is needed. It is a prophylactic against future genocides, may God save us. It is an inducement to action in the present against ongoing genocides, God help us.

“But I must admit openly that the gassings had a calming effect on me…Up to this point it was not clear to me, nor to Eichmann, how the killing of the expected masses was to be done. Perhaps by gas? But how, and what kind of gas….Now I was at ease.”
– Rudolph Hoess, pg. 70.

Let me digress for a moment and speak as an American Christian. I suspect that someday when God reveals to us the true nature of the good and evil which we have done in our lives we will find that our apathy stands far above and beyond so many of the sins we endeavor so faithfully to avoid today.

Further, I suspect that our myopic dedication to these rote sins is an endeavor to distract our consciences from the true nature of our own selfishness.

Lord, save me from my apathy. From my righteous indignation over the sins of others that I use to assuage my burning conscience.

The Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg (Book Review)

History has the potential to be our tutor in humility. I will not claim any excellence in humility, but I will say that what humility I have is in large part due to reading history.

The Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg is one of the better historical tutors as it exposes to us not only the lives and actions of our leaders but also the times, controversies, and cultures in which they led.

History can be dull and dry – because the writing makes it so, or the topics are mundane, or because we fail to see what it has to teach us. Yet history can also be exciting and insightful – history teaches us truths like:

  1. Those we judge today as scoundrels or imbeciles are oftentimes our heroes of yesterday.
  2. What seems the only way, the right way, frequently proves the wrong way with the passing of time.
  3. We are greater and worse than those who came before us Рleaving us to consider, will we search out the sins of our generation and forsake them or will future generations look back at us in dismay?
  4. We repeat our past with variations. We are not the first to face such a dilemma, nor are we likely to be the last.
  5. People operate within a personal and cultural milieu; their actions are heavily weighted by their experiences and a little more listening, a little more grace, can go a long way towards understanding and appreciating the other.

Lets look at a few examples and I will share some of the lessons I learn from these historical truths:

  1. Anti-immigrant sentiment is not a new phenomenon. John Adams supported and enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts which specifically targeted immigrants. (pg. 258)
    1. Lesson: Anti-immigrant movements are not a new phenomena nor should one dismiss such movements as intellectually crippled, for great minds have supported them.
    2. Question for Consideration: Who were anti-immigration policies focused on? (Hint: Those who now proclaim themselves proudly and truly American were oftentimes the very individuals opposed in the past, e.g. the Irish)
  2. Nor is suppression of freedom of speech a new phenomenon – as John Adams used one of the laws in the Alien and Sedition acts to suppress political opponents. (pg. 258)
    1. Lesson: Freedom of speech has been threatened by great leaders in the past; it is not a new threat, nor does it being threatened mean that we are imminently facing its extinction.[1]
    2. Question: Who else in American history has constrained the rights of American citizens? (Hint: Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus; under FDR during WWII we placed over 160,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps)
  3. Under Andrew Jackson we were the perpetrators of horrific acts of human rights violations as we manhandled Native Americans.[2] (pg. 261)
    1. Lesson: While we should oppose human rights violations around the world, we should not pretend that we are above such abuses.
    2. Question: What other atrocious acts have been committed under the authority of the United States? (Hint: Look for our purposeful infection of individuals in Latin America with a horrible disease, we are talking 20th century; also some of the regimes we have supported despite their genocidal human rights violations)
  4. Ulysses S. Grant fought for African American civil rights but his endeavors were not lasting enough to offset the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan, which violently enforced segregation and subjugation. It was with 700,000 Southern African American voters that Grant won the election; but, fast forward a short time into the future and African American civil rights would again be suppressed – including the right to vote. (pg. 278)
    1. Lesson: Americans allowed slavery to endure for a lengthy period of our history and when it was ended there was hope of a new equality, but we failed to protect those who were vulnerable and ensure that might didn’t make right…it was our inaction that allowed subjugation of our fellow members of humanity to continue on.
    2. Question: What other sorts of racism surfaced later in American history? Have we seen any recently? (Hint: Look for riots not just in Southern states but Northern as well – I’m looking at you, New Jersey, for one)
  5. There is something to be learned from Ulysses S. Grant whom Felzenberg notes as the only president “to apologize in his farewell message for his personal and policy failings.” (pg. 285)
    1. Lesson: It requires a deeper dive into U.S. Grant’s personality and circumstances to determine whether this apology came from a healthy place and whether it is something to be imitated by others. At first glance, though, we behold a refreshing humility for one of our elected leaders – the ability to admit one’s own incompetence.
    2. Question: What other American leaders have apologized for their actions? What is true about the character of these individuals as opposed to those who refused to apologize or did so in a belittling manner? (Hint: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan may be a good start)
  6. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt America placed into concentration camps (and thereby abandoned the constitutional rights of) 120,000 Japanese Americans (60%+ were American citizens). (pg. 314)
    1. Lesson: Even if our cause is right we are capable of making grave mistakes that permanently and negatively affect the lives of others.
    2. Question: Have we placed other individuals into concentration camps or otherwise significantly curtailed their liberties? (Hint: Look into the historical treatment of the mentally ill and of those who were ill with HIV/AIDS)
  7. John F. Kennedy, in some ways an astute and successful leader in foreign affairs badly bungled the American-backed invasion of Cuba (pg. 355), and his numerous dalliances with the opposite gender could have been disastrous for national security. (pg. 356).
    1. Lesson: As we consider who will be most careful with our national security it is important to remember that heroes of the past had their great weaknesses as well.
    2. Question: How was John F. Kennedy’s health while in office? (Hint:¬†Look into the consequences of his wartime injuries [WWII] and how this was handled and hidden during his time in office)

What historical books have you read? What lessons have you learned from specific historical events? What questions have historical events raised for you?

  1. [1]Not that I am suggesting we should stop fighting for freedom of speech or be aghast at attempts to deny it, only that in historical context our doomsday predictions are usually not fulfilled.
  2. [2]Some balk at the idea of the United States mistreating Native Americans, insisting this was brought on by their own misbehavior. Even if we were to grant this premise, we would still have committed many acts of atrocious violence against Native American civilians. Sixty thousand Native Americans died traveling the Trail of Tears! (pg. 263) It may also be worth noting that this horrific behavior was opposed by individuals such as American hero, Davy Crockett. (pg. 264)