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War in the Pacific: A coffee-table book for your iPad

This multimedia-enriched e-book gives you the sights, sounds, and details of the Pacific side of the Second World War. It's like the print version, only better.

A must-have for anyone interested in World War II, War in the Pacific turns a print book into an interactive dazzler.
A must-have for anyone interested in World War II, War in the Pacific turns a print book into an interactive dazzler. Screenshot by Rick Broida

I'm a closet World War II junkie. I sat rapt through Ken Burns' "The War" and HBO's "Band of Brothers." And I just finished "Unbroken," the mesmerizing, jaw-dropping tale of WWII POW Louis Zamperini. (Seriously, if you read no other book this year...)

So I was very keen to thumb through War in the Pacific, an iPad application based on an eponymous coffee-table book published early last year. And that's the best way I can describe it: a coffee-table book for your iPad.

But you've never seen a print edition like this. The e-book's 20 chapters fill five main sections spanning the years between 1941 and 1945. Each gorgeously illustrated page includes supplemental materials such as photos, secret documents, archival videos, and profiles of historical figures.

In other words, imagine a typical historical tome, but with photos you can zoom in on, a timeline you can view and hide at will, the occasional video corresponding to a passage in the text, a search function, and so on. It reminds me of the multimedia-enhanced "interactive" CD-ROMs of the '80s, but formatted to take advantage of the iPad.

War in the Pacific ($9.99) has two other noteworthy features: animated, narrated maps of each of the five sections, and a three-dimensional scrolling wall of all the photos contained in the book. The latter is pretty cool, though the photos themselves don't zoom to fill the screen--perhaps because many of them are a bit soft to begin with.

My key gripe about the app is that whenever you return to the main menu or open a new chapter, its dramatic musical score kicks in. Much as I like the music, I'd like the option to turn it off--but there isn't one.

Thankfully, the iPad's own volume controls can remedy that. If you have even a passing interest in World War II, I highly recommend this beautifully designed, richly detailed app. It's so good, you might decide to leave your iPad on your coffee table.