Finding out About Science eBooks and Apps

Finding the best science apps is a challengeWith half a million Apps (and counting) on the App Store, I was already a bit overwhelmed trying to find and keep up with science Apps. And then came eBooks and iBooks. The availability of so many options for publishing content in various interactive formats is great for authors, but how is a consumer to keep up? How can we be sure we haven’t missed something good?

With the arrival of iBooks Author software, it is easier than ever for just about anybody to create an eBook, or an App, or something between the two. I might even finally write my memoirs myself. But how can the best books get noticed among such a crowd? Is there a masterpiece out there in cyberspace that has simply got lost? And how does someone like me find out about the latest and greatest eBooks and Apps without devoting endless hours to the task?

One answer is to let others do the work for you. I like to read reviews and benefit from the wisdom and experience of others before risking a purchase. In the area of science eBooks and Apps, I have found Download the Universe to be an entertaining, helpful and extremely readable source of information on the latest eBook offerings.

As explained in the introduction to the site, Download the Universe is the result of a discussion at Science Online 2012, where it was agreed that there was a need for an easier way for readers to find out about new eBooks about science. Carl Zimmer, the discussion leader at that particular session, volunteered to do something about it—and Download the Universe is the result. The editors list reads like a who’s who of contemporary science authors, bloggers and journalists. The reviews are insightful, entertaining, and thorough, and the fast pace of development in the world of eBooks means you never know what you will find there from week to week. This quote from the site introduction sums up the spirit of enthusiasm and excitement about using eBooks to communicate science in new ways:

We hope that we will eventually review new kinds of eBooks that we can’t even imagine yet. And we hope that you will find Download the Universe a useful doorway into that future.

A case in point is Fish: A Tap Essay by Robin Sloan, reviewed here by David Dobbs. Fish: A-Tap Essay delivers its message one screen at a time, one line at a time, and sometimes one word at a time. And in doing so it manages to say something powerful about finding meaning amongst the “noise” of a busy, information-overloaded world. It is an elegantly simple use of technology to make a point about both technology and behavior. The writing, the delivery mechanism and the design work together beautifully to communicate the story.

Other eBooks and Apps reviewed in April include: Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night by Mary Kay Carson—a children’s eBook reviewed by Carl Zimmer with interesting and insightful help from his daughter; Colors Uncovered, an App that I really want to try; and March of the Dinosaurs—an iPad App reviewed by free lance writer and paleontology expert Brian Switek.

Left to my own devices, I would be lucky to find a fraction of the eBooks featured and reviewed on Download the Universe so I would like to say a big thank you to all the editors and site administrators, it is a hugely useful resource for scientists and others seeking to keep up with developments in eBooks, and to see how authors and developers are experimenting with new media to present scientific material in meaningful ways.

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Isobel Maciver

Isobel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. She is a technical writer and editor, and is also manager of the Scientific Communications group at Promega. She enjoys writing about issues in science and communication.

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