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British Library drags iPad into the 1800s

Go retro--way retro--with the British Library 19th Century Books app. Actual scanned images of the books get you as close as possible to the real thing.

British Library 19th Century Books "A Wild Sheep Chase"
The title just makes you want to read it. (Click to enlarge.)
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Retro is cool when it comes to the iPad. You can turn it into a tabletop arcade console. You can disguise it as an old book. You can even run a DOS emulator on it.

The British Library gets on the bandwagon with the 19th Century Books iPad app. It goes retro. Way retro. All the way back to the 1800s retro.

The free app features a collection of 1,000 books ranging from historical adventures to travelogues to poetry and fiction. All are from the public domain. Plans are for a paid collection, with more than 60,000 titles to be made available later in the year.

The app includes such little-known works as "A Wild Sheep Chase" from 1894 and "Fables for the Female Sex," as well as established classics such as "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "The Invisible Man."

The British Library didn't go the usual e-book route for this app. The books are captured as scanned images that show all the colorful covers, aged pages, and nuanced illustrations. It really is the next best thing to having an actual book in your hand.

There is plenty here for bibliophiles, historians, and Thomas Hardy fans to get excited about. More casual readers can marvel at the illustrations and use of the word "alas."

You can search titles, but you can't search through the actual texts. You'll have to pretend like you're in a real library and take the time to browse the books. Alas, this is still a pretty sweet app for book lovers.