Download the Universe: A Discerning Curator for Science eBooks

download the universe

We all need guides for the over­whelm­ing world of the Inter­net. Dig­i­tal cura­tors are essen­tial to sift­ing through the vast and expand­ing sup­ply of online con­tent because they find the good stuff that’s worth check­ing out.

When Down­load the Uni­verse launched a year ago, the dig­i­tal world gained a smart and dis­cern­ing cura­tor for the grow­ing num­ber of sci­ence ebooks. What a boon for sci­ence lovers. Sci­ence lends itself unique­ly to apps and ebook pub­lish­ing. And doing what dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing does best, a good ebook can bring con­tent to life like no paper­back or hard­cov­er can.

fragile earth

Take Harp­er Collins’ Frag­ile Earth ($2.99 on iTunes), which came out orig­i­nal­ly as a glossy cof­fee table book. Loaded with before and after pho­tos of places on the plan­et scarred by defor­esta­tion and cli­mate change, the book was visu­al­ly stun­ning, if pedan­tic. But when released as an ebook, the whole expe­ri­ence unfold­ed like a beau­ti­ful, heart­break­ing origa­mi.

As Down­load the Uni­verse’s review of the Frag­ile Earth ebook  points out, the app ver­sion ben­e­fits from dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, lay­ing before and after satel­lite images over one anoth­er, rather than side by side, mak­ing the expe­ri­ence of see­ing them  even more pro­found.

color uncovered

Here’s anoth­er one: Col­or Uncov­ered (free on iTunes), pro­duced by San Francisco’s Explorato­ri­um Muse­um, is a rich expe­ri­ence like a muse­um exhib­it itself. Com­bin­ing text with images and inter­ac­tive fea­tures, the ebook explores how the eye per­ceives col­or. The review­er, New York Times con­trib­u­tor Carl Zim­mer, uses his review to dis­cuss what the ebook expe­ri­ence shares with muse­um exhibits.

In the hands of Down­load the Uni­verse, it appears that ebook pub­lish­ing has matured into its own genre, with its own dis­tinct advan­tages.


Some­times ebook pub­lish­ers don’t make good use of avail­able fea­tures. This review of Blind­sight by jour­nal­ist Chris Col­in notes that the book’s app ver­sion, telling the sto­ry of a tele­vi­sion direc­tor who suf­fers a brain injury, should have includ­ed neu­ro­log­i­cal back­ground infor­ma­tion in the main sto­ry, not as a sep­a­rate fea­ture.

Down­load the Uni­verse only reviews ebooks in the dig­i­tal uni­verse, not spin-offs from tra­di­tion­al print books. They look at Kin­dle prod­ucts, self-pub­lished pdf man­u­scripts and apps, and they’ve got top-notch tal­ent review­ing this brave new world on our behalf. The edi­to­r­i­al board includes some names you may well rec­og­nize, like Sean Car­roll (Cal­tech physi­cist), Steve Sil­ber­man (Wired), Mag­gie Koerth-Bak­er (Boing Boing), Annalee Newitz (io9), and David Dobbs (NYTimes, Nat Geo, etc.).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Should Read

NASA Presents “The Earth as Art” in a Free eBook and Free iPad App

375 Free eBooks: Down­load to Kin­dle, iPad/iPhone & Nook 

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Read more of her work at .

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  • ss says:

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