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Search Amazon.com For Books

Note! This search returns Amazon results "the good, old way".
It does not search within book texts, and thus
it does not return vast numbers of confusing false hits.

Notes on Searching Amazon.com

The Search Box that is what this page is all about is simple and intuitive enough that you should be able to use it with no explanations at all. But there are all sorts of little things to know that can make your search experience more powerful and less prone to mistakes, so you really should carefully read the material here at least once before actually using the Search Box. This information is mostly about the way Amazon handles searches--not about any quirks of the software we use to query Amazon from your entries here and display the data Amazon sends back--so most of it will be helpful to you whether you're using this page or sometime just searching Amazon's own site directly.

The "Search Box" below has two areas: required "search for" data and optional "how to search" data.


The "Required" Data

In the "required" area, you must enter something in at least one of the entry areas--Author, Title, Publisher, Subject, Keywords, or ISBN; you may enter data in several or all of them if you like, but there must be something somewhere. (Case does not matter.)

Note that if you specify an ISBN--because it uniquely identifies a particular edition--all other entries and option settings will be ignored on an ISBN search.

Generally, if you have exact data, such as part or all of the author's name or the title, you are better off not using the "Subject" or "Keywords" criteria: save those for wide-ranging searches for categories of books.


Author-Name "Gotchas"

Beware this: Amazon attempts to maximize hits, and thus interprets names liberally: so, if you search for, say, just author Jack Vance, you will get back in your results a wild-game cookbook by a woman named J. Carol Vance. While you can eliminate such "ringers" by using the Exact-name option, you then risk missing books that really are by Jack Vance should Amazon list any such Vance books by some variant of his name, such as "J. Vance' or "John Vance".

You can reduce false-hit problems, at least when searching for particular books, by using the author's last name only (using the Start of last name option below the name text-entry area). But you then have to beware this major defect in Amazon's database: authors whose last name is more than one word will often not produce the results you would expect. Here is an example:

There are (or at one time were) 10 editions of books by Ursula K. Le Guin with the word "wind" in their titles available new from Amazon. Doing searches with "wind" as the only title text (and the Title word(s) option checked), searches using variations of the author's name and of author-name options selected gave these results:

ALL editions found: NO editions found:
Ursula K. Le Guin
First name/initials and last name

Le Guin, Ursula K.
First name/initials and last name

Ursula K. Le Guin
Exact name

Le Guin, Ursula K.
Exact name

Ursula Le Guin
Exact name

Le Guin, Ursula
Exact name

Le Guin, (note the trailing comma)
Start of last name

Leguin (words run together)
Start of last name

Ursula Le Guin
First name/initials and last name

Le Guin, Ursula
First name/initials and last name

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

Le Guin (NO trailing comma)
Start of last name

(The success of the search with the last name run together--"Leguin"--is not universal: it just happened to work in this instance. Trying the same trick with Henrik Willem Van Loon as Vanloon, for example, does not work.)

The following rule appears, from our tests, to be reliable: when using only an author's last name in a search, put a comma after the name (and, of course, select the Start of last name option). You don't need the comma if the name is the usual single word, but always using the comma is a good habit to cultivate.


Title "Gotchas"

Because titles are as prone to erronous entry in Amazon's database as author names, you should at the least restrict your title-data entries to nontrivial words in the title: for example, to look for The Palace of Love, just enter "palace love" as title words.

Warning: Titles beginning with any one of the words And, Or, or Not will likely return false results. (That is because Amazon's query-parsing algorithm may, depending on the exact structure of the search request, interpret those words as logic commands affecting the way the search terms are combined, rather than as parts of the title proper.) So, for reliability, never include one of those words as the first word of a title--just omit it, being sure you have selected the Title word(s) option.


A Useful Rule


In sum, the best way to search for a particular book is to use--

author last name with a trailing comma and the Start of last name option

--plus--

nontrivial title words and the Title word(s) option



The "Optional" Settings

"Sort Results by"

This controls just what you think it does. If your search is for a particular book, the default setting of Price (Low to High) is usually the most useful; if your search is likely to produce more than one title (as with, for example, a search just by author name), then Alphabetical (A-Z) is probably best. The other options are pretty much self-explanatory except Bestselling and Featured Items, whose exact significance to Amazon we don't know for certain (try them and see).

"Show unavailable items as well?"

The default setting (unchecked = No) will cause the results presented to you to omit all books for which the "Availability" listed by Amazon is or includes any of:

  • Out of Print
  • Special Order
  • THIS TITLE IS CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE
  • Limited Availability
  • We are currently unable to offer this title
  • Seller usually dispatches (signifies available used only)
  • wir nicht oder nicht mehr - jetzt gebraucht vorbestellen

If you click a check in this Options box, all found titles will be presented, including those described above.

Note! Because "Availability" information takes Amazon's servers a relatively long time to get, Amazon will sometimes--if those "availability" data are slow in arriving--ship out response pages without those data, which will show up on what you see as --availability not specified--, but will also will have the effect of including any edition so tagged in the lists, even if it "really" is unavailable, because the filter cannot exclude as Unavailable what it knows nothing about.

Let us emphasize that again: the presence of a book in the listings does not necessarily mean that it is really available to be bought if its listed availability is --availability not specified--: you have to click on that book title to see the details to find out for sure. (If the details page also returns --availability not specified--, reload it once or twice to see if you can get a real availability listing.) This is purely an Amazon problem and has nothing to do with our search software.

"Show real books only?"

The default setting (checked = Yes) will cause the results presented to you to omit all books for which:

the "Medium" listed by Amazon is any of:
  • audio
  • board book
  • CD
  • cd rom
  • cd-rom
  • calendar
  • cards
  • digital
  • pop-up
  • poster
  • rag book
  • spiral-bound
  • Hörkassette
or    for which the title or description includes any of:
  • adapted
  • book and charm
  • download
  • abridged
  • audio
  • blank book
  • board book
  • calendar
  • cassette
  • cd rom
  • cd-rom
  • coloring
  • colouring
  • comics
  • comic book
  • big comic
  • cookbook
  • disney
  • jigsaw
  • locked diary
  • Lernmaterialien
  • mp3
  • multi media
  • multi-media
  • playscript
  • pop up
  • pop-up
  • postcard
  • tatoos
  • vhs tape
  • vocal

We list those so that you can understand exactly what is being excluded. It is not impossible for a legitimate book title to contain one of the "taboo" words above, so if you are looking for such a book, turn this filter off.

"Pages per block?"

This setting is unique to these search pages, and it balances page speed against page content length in returning search results. It is quite similar to the "Items per page?" sort of settings you see on places like Google and Yahoo searches.

The search performed from this page uses a special interface to Amazon's databases; Amazon returns results through that interface at a maximum of 10 "hits" per page returned to our search software. But this software is designed to present results to you in "blocks" (the results pages you will see) that each constitute the returns from a number of the short Amazon pages. This parameter controls how many Amazon 10-item pages are accumulated to make one page of display for you.

The smaller the number, the faster you will see results: setting the value to 1, so that each page you see is the contents of but one Amazon 10-item page, is the fastest, but gives only a small number of results at a time. (Remember: if you leave the "available only" and "real books only" filters on, you will usually discard a substantial fraction--often a large majority--of the raw results Amazon returns on its pages; it is not uncommon for even several Amazon pages combined to return no "available+real" books at all.)

The tradeoff in speed is not much as you increase the block size. On one rather slow connection, we found that 10 seems a good compromise, and that is the default setting: it usually returns a "full" (100-raw-item) block in under 30 seconds. If you feel that results pages are slow coming back to you, try lowering the setting to 5, or even 1, and see what happens. If you have a fast connection and are getting the pages quickly, try increasing the setting to 15, or 20, or--if it's still working well for you, even 30 or 50.

Before jumping to any conclusions, have it firmly in your mind that return speeds can vary a lot, even over very short intervals. A search that takes, say, 27 seconds (we've tried all this using a stopwatch) can, repeated only seconds later, take well over a minute, or just 8 seconds. A very great deal depends on the instantaneous load on Amazon's servers at the moment your query arrives. Try a given "pages per block" setting out quite a lot before coming to any definite conclusions.

(In most browsers, the text of a page will be fully downloaded first, with any images--of which this search returns some, book covers when Amazon has them available--following after at whatever pace they can manage; we consider a page "loaded" for timing purposes when the browser presents the complete page text. Images can be, when large or numerous, a long time "catching up" with the text.)

Also--though this should be obvious--the more exact you make your search specification, the faster things will go, as there will be fewer false hits returned (that is especially true for author names or book titles that are not distinctive: a search for "Be Free Today" by John R. Smith (a made-up example) will overwhelm you with results if you just look for title "Free" by author "Smith".


The Pushbuttons

Their functions are obvious from their titles, with this one side note: It is wise to always start each search anew by clicking the Clear Form button before entering search data, even if you are just modifying a prior search. (Some browsers "remember" settings that have apparently been changed or erased.) But note that "clearing" the search-box text entries with that button also resets the search options to their default values.



Miscellaneous Considerations

Editions Found

This Search Box does not work the same way as the similar-looking one on Amazon's own pages: this search will turn up all editions of the sought book or books, not just one example of each. To elaborate:

Normal Amazon searches usually return lists that are incomplete. That incompleteness consists in their presenting, for a given edition, only one format (that is, hardcover or paperback or audio or whatever), even when there may be others available. For example: at one time, a search from Amazon's own version of this page using John Gardner as author and Grendel as title would come back with one hit--but clicking on more... under Editions on that page would bring up a new list with nine hits! But your search from this page would always find all nine (minus any the filtering blocks) on the first go.

Search Times

This is almost entirely a function of Amazon's response time to the inquiries our software generates from your entries, and it can be very variable. A search that returns its first page of results in 8 to 9 seconds can, when repeated exactly only a moment later, take over a minute! It all depends on the instantaneous load on Amazon's servers when your inquiry arrives, and you can see the same sort of variability in response time just doing ordinary searches on Amazon's own site. Sorry, there's nothing you or we can do about that.

Cover Images

When Amazon has available an image of an edition's cover, you will see that image to the left of the book description. If no such image appears, Amazon simply doesn't have one. (When images are available, the individual-book details pages--the pages you get to by clicking on titles in a search-results list--show a much larger-sized image of the cover.)

Editions Not Found

We have already mentioned editions entered in Amazon's database with errors in either the author name or the title or both, and there are lots of such entries. Obviously, then, no search can reliably find all editions that should be matches. If you are bound and determined to try to find every available edition or title, you can use a multi-step iterative procedure: do a search by the author's name, then do a search on every title turned up in that search and look for any variant forms of the author's name, then do searches on those, and so on till you find no more variations in either author name or title--or till your patience runs out.

Another problem with Amazon's database is that sometimes books are not listed by their actual author. (One example: The Best of Avram Davidson, a selection of his work, does not include Davidson in the author listing, which shows the editor's name instead.) So, if you don't find a book you believe exists--especially if it's a collection or omnibus of some sort--try a search on just the title, or variant title forms.

Also be aware that Amazon's searches only occasionally return any omnibus volumes that contain the book you're searching for. For example, a search for author:Vance, and title word Wyst does not return the omnibus volume Alastor, which contains that and two other related novels. You can only reliably find omnibus volumes by doing an author-only search and examing all results. (Amazon does not note omnibus volumes in any special way, nor list their contents, though sometimes "Reader Comments" will contain such information.)

(Note: In future, when you reach this page you can just click on the highlighted words Jump to search box in the extreme upper right of the page when it first appears: that will take you right to the box below without any need for page-scrolling through all that text.)


The "Search Box" Proper

Please be sure to read the explanatory material above before using this search facility.

Required data (there must be an entry in at least one field)

Optional (defaults as shown)

= Author
    Exact name First name/initials and last name Start of last name
Sort results by:


= Title
    Exact start of title Title word(s) Start(s) of title word(s)
Show unavailable items as well?
(see notes in text above)

= Publisher
    Use only significant words (such as "Acme" for "Acme Publishing, Inc.")
Show real books only?
(see notes in text above)

= Subject
    Subject word(s) Start of subject Start(s) of subject word(s)
Pages per block?

(see notes in text above)
= Keyword(s)
    Keyword word(s) Start of keyword(s)
= ISBN    (must be exactly 10 characters--omit hyphens)
    (If you enter an ISBN, all other entries are ignored.)