Books labeled “Look Inside” only allow you to read a few pages of excerpts, but books labeled “Search Inside,” like The Belgariad, can be full-text searched by clicking on the icon, which brings up a search box like the one shown here. Enter a search phrase and you get a list of all the places the phrase appears. Click on one of the results and it takes you directly to the page that contains it.

BOOK SEARCHING….So has everyone heard the news that Amazon has introduced a feature that allows you to do a full-text search of the books they sell? This is incredibly cool. I am now willing to worship the ground that Jeff Bezos walks on and (more important to him, I assume) buy all my books from Amazon in the future.

This is something that I’ve been pining away for pretty much forever but never thought would happen. I am constantly looking for things in books I own, and just as constantly wishing that I could search them electronically instead of flipping pages endlessly to find the passage I want. This lets me do it, and it’s a boon to mankind.

However, at the risk of seeming churlish about this gift from the gods, it turns out there are a couple of hiccups. First, Amazon has available only 120,000 books so far. This sounds like a lot, but when I started experimenting by typing in random titles from my bookshelf, it took me nearly a dozen tries to finally find one that was searchable. When they get up to a million books or so, it will probably be more useful.

Second, it turns out the Author’s Guild has some problems with this. I can certainly understand their concern, but I sure hope they find a way to live with this. I suspect that the danger is small for the vast majority of books, and Amazon has taken measures to make it difficult (or impossible) to browse or print out large sections of books. In general, I’m pretty supportive of authors’ rights, but I’ve been concerned for a while that the AG’s hardline stance on royalty issues is a real threat to enormously valuable services that the internet makes possible. (Then again, I’m not an author. Opposing viewpoints are welcome!)

In any case, this is all very cool and I hope Amazon is able to expand it.

UPDATE: Cooler and cooler. If you just go to the Book tab and type a phrase within double quotes in the regular search box, you get a list of all the books that contain that phrase. Type in “Kevin Drum,” for example, and you’ll see that my name is not mentioned once in all those 120,000 books. How sad.

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