Researching the Civil War While Driving

Recently I took a two-day road trip for a high school reunion and afterward made a presentation about my book, Trading With the Enemy, to the local Civil War Roundtable. While on the road I finished reading William McFeely’s Grant biography and started Fredrick Lewis Allen’s Lords of Creation.

Nearly all the reading was while I was driving, but it was as safe as listening to the radio. The books were Kindle versions purchased at Amazon. They were stored on my Apple iPad within the Kindle Application, which is available for free at Apple’s App store.


My “trick” was Kindle’s text-to-voice feature. When I bought my 2015 Toyota Avalon the salesman initialized the dashboard to connect wirelessly (via the BlueTooth standard) to both my iPhone and iPad. The idea was to enable me to listen to music stored on – or streamed via YouTube, etc. to – the iPad or iPhone through the car’s audio speakers. During an earlier trip I listened to a number of YouTube Civil War and author lectures that way.

This time, however, I used Kindle’s voice-to-text feature to have the books read to me aloud via the car speakers. Although the reading voice had a female computerized timbre, I got used to it within thirty minutes. While she would dutifully read the endnote numbers within the context of the text, I also got used to that. Although Kindle permitted me to adjust her speed, I kept her pretty slow in order to minimize the likelihood of missing something. In order to avoid exhausting the iPad’s battery, I connected the iPad to the dashboard electrical outlet with an adapter and the iPad’s regular charging cord.

Since the words were read aloud I could just as well have used the Kindle application on my iPhone. But, I already had it set up on the iPad.

Like most computer applications, the set-up can be confusing but after about a half dozen uses it gets easier and eventually routine. I’ve also been using the text-to-speech feature to “read” Kindle books while I exercise on stationary equipment such as a stair-master.

A couple of YouTube instructional videos can help readers get started. If you already have Kindle on your iPhone or iPad, this one shows how to activate and use the text-to-speech feature. There are probably modest differences for the most recent Kindle versions and Apple models. If you don’t have the Kindle app on your iPhone or iPad this second and longer video takes you step-by-step through the process.

Getting the iPad or iPhone connected to your dashboard speakers is up to you, but older cars should work with wired connections. Those of you with Android phones and other tablet computers can use your equipment as well although the videos I provide are specific to Apple and Kindle.

While others might read books in a similar manner with prerecorded audio CDs, the variety of books available in that format is much smaller and the prices are higher. Due to the abundance of lectures and music on the Internet as well as the many Kindle versions of books, I have yet to even once turn on the radio in my six-month old car.

My Civil War Books:

Trading With the Enemy
Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated


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