We’ve all heard the argument that ebooks are nothing like the real thing. They don’t have the same weight to them. They don’t smell like books. Turning virtual pages isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the paper variety. You can’t take them in the bathtub. All true. But let us not forget that the paper variety of books are fairly new-fangled in their own right. Back in ye goode olde days, books were handwritten on vellum, featuring lavish flourishes around capital letters, if not whole illustrated pages.
The British Library has crossed the paths of some of these treasures with the ebook, though they don’t ask that you buy an ereader. My personal favorite from their virtual collection is a psalter that once belonged to Henry VIII. I’m rather fond of page f.48. What’s not to love about a battle scene in a prayer book? The book is in amazing condition, pretty lightly used, though one wonders what sort of quiet, reflective time it spent with the notorious monarch.
Also check out a 17th century illustrated Ramayana, which flips up from the bottom rather than over from the right. Or see how Mozart scribbled notes in his diary, the illustrated version of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and History of England, an early work by Jane Austen which happens to have a drawing of Henry VIII on page 12.
It’s all around a fascinating site, though the navigation at the top of the main page is a tad annoying. It never seems to want to stop, and only recognizes clicks on the tiny arrow (not the whole “More” link). Also, their Turning the Pages 2.0 app is one of the few things I’ve encountered that seems to run better in Explorer than Firefox.