books · resources

Online Resource: Reading Free Rare Books

Louis Renard, Natuulyke Historie (1782): 90, Special Collections, University Library of Utrecht, via Samuel Fallours and Wikimedia.

Sometimes I get a hankering to read old books. Luckily I’ve found a website that allows me to explore some of the rarest books in the world for free.

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.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by John Tenniel, 1866 ed., via Wikimedia.

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.


31 thoughts on “Online Resource: Reading Free Rare Books

  1. I love old books. I have several books stored away written and published in the 19th Century. Some are falling apart; others are in remarkably good condition for their age. Thanks for posting this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Ever wanted to see what a Book of Hours looks like? Or a codex from the time of the Roman empire. What would Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales have looked like before print? The Rare Book Room lets you look at rare books and manuscripts you might never see otherwise. Kristen Twardowski explains…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read stuff at Gutenberg, but this one is new to me. I had a look and can see the list is quite impressive. The navigation seems a bit slow but the photographers have undoubtedly done good job.

    Liked by 1 person

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