As technological advances go, the basic book has had a long and distinguished run. It spurred the exchange and preservation of knowledge among individuals and cultures. It is eminently portable and requires no source of power. Governments have burned them, revolutions revered them and bookworms cherished them.
They won't easily fold in the face of new technology.
The idea of an electronic book is nothing new, but while different companies have attempted it, Amazon's Kindle may have established the first real beachhead for the next wave of printed communication.
A bit awkward looking with its keyboard, click-wheel and elongated buttons, the Kindle still manages to evoke the feeling of a book. The ''electronic ink'' screen draws each page as you ''turn'' them. No backlighting means none of the eyestrain you experience reading on a computer screen, although the gray background differs enough from white paper that it takes getting used to. You may find you need to read with even brighter lighting than you would with a standard book.
While the Kindle mimics the experience of reading a paper book, it still requires adjustment from the reader. A book you can hold any old way that's comfortable; the Kindle has buttons that can be accidentally pressed. Yet it mimics the experience well, and the use of the page buttons quickly becomes near-invisible.
The Kindle does require a charge, but its low power consumption generally means you can read for hours without worrying about finding an outlet.
Aside from the reading experience, the feature that sets the Kindle apart is free wireless access to the Amazon Kindle store. You can shop anywhere you can get a cell phone signal and have your e-book delivered near instantaneously. Other features, such as basic MP3 playback and mobile e-mail, are kludgy -- stick to your iPod and phone for those.
The Kindle is a good buy if you like the idea of carrying a library on every trip, or if you're looking to reduce the weight on your bookshelves. It won't replace the feeling of a good book resting on your chest as you nod off to a nap, but it's a strong first step.