Reading Wikipedia articles offline on an Amazon Kindle

The blog post was originally written about three years ago for another website. I haven’t checked if it’s all still relevant or if better methods now exist, it’s really here as a reminder-to-self.

Whilst getting ready for my summer holiday I decided I would get a book on film making to read whilst the kids enjoyed the pool. I ended up buying JW Rinzler’s “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back: The Definitive Story Behind the Film” which is an absurd choice for a holiday book because it’s the size of a small billboard, weighs more than my hand luggage, and is definitely not the sort of book you want the kids to splash or cover in ice cream.

So, back to square one.

Wikipedia is a good source of behind the scenes trivia on movies, particularly for classic films. I’ve got an Amazon Kindle which is ideal for pool-side reading. The Kindle web browser copes quite happily with the Wikipedia site, but I don’t want to have to rely on getting good wifi. So how to get one on the other for offline reading?

There’s three ways to get content onto the Kindle: buy it from Amazon, email it to your personal Kindle email address, or just copy it over USB onto the Kindle memory.

All Wikipedia pages have a “download as PDF” link on them, but a quick test showed that whilst I could email the PDF to the Kindle easily enough, it wasn’t formatted with a page size that would fit on the Kindle screen (Amazon doesn’t reformat it during the delivery process). The page had to be scrolled horizontally to read each line, which isn’t just annoying but impractical with the slow e-ink display.

Wikipedia also has a “printable version” link for each page, so I entertained the thought of using that page to produce a PDF by printing to PDFCreator, within which I could set the page size appropriately. However having to do this for every page I wanted to read was far too tedious!

It turns out Wikipedia has already considered this problem and provided most of the solution. Each page has a “create a book” link. This adds a toolbar to the regular articles so you can add them to your “book”. When you’re done you can download the whole lot as a single file in PDF, EPub, ZIM or ODT formats.

I found that Wikipedia users had already done the work of collating articles into books, too. I was able to find collections on Steven Spielberg, Star Wars and James Bond that will provide me with some pretty easy going bite-sized reading between dad duties. If I have one criticism, it’s that it’s not easy to find the “bookshelf” section where these are all listed.

Disappointingly, the Kindle doesn’t support the open EPub format. Next stop was the free open source application Calibre. This can convert lots of different book/text formats,  including EPub to Kindle. Configuration was really easy because the Calibre installer asked me what type of e-reader I had and set up all the correct defaults.

Calibre had no problem converting the EPub files to Kindle MOBI format. I gave Calibre my SMTP email settings and Kindle email address and it sent the finished books straight to my device. The only hiccup was with the Spielberg book, the number of articles in it made for a large 60Mb MOBI file which exceeded the size limit on the email system. I pushed this file to the Kindle over USB instead.

The finished books were the correct size for the e-ink display and also had a table of contents to allow you to navigate easily to a particular article.