The Rare Book Room is a website created by Octavo, a company that has digitized hundreds of rare books from the greatest libraries in the world. The collection contains books by Galileo, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Einstein, Wollstonecraft, and numerous others that cover subjects like art, exploration, history, and music.
Despite the obvious care that went into digitizing the books – the website proudly discusses the the resolution of each image – the site itself is very simple and lacks the bells and whistles of many of its contemporaries. Don’t let the project’s unadorned nature fool you though; the creators regularly add excellent new content, and there are almost always new books to explore. Because Octavo hopes that people will access these books for educational purposes, many of the books also come with official descriptions that provide the history of the book in question as well as the provenance of the physical copy. You can check out the description of their edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for example, here.
Of course with books like these, reading digital versions isn’t quite as good as being able to peruse the physical copies. Beautiful books almost always benefit from being taken in hand. Still, having high quality electronic images of these rare books available means that I don’t have to go gallivanting across the world to see them. And that is a great gift.