Discovering where the movie magic began

Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 3:32 PM

, Google Book Search

The latest Oscar award winners will be announced today. What does this have to do with books, you wonder? More than you may think! Just as books provide a source of inspiration for our own lives, so do they inspire screenwriters, directors, and actors to craft award-winning motion pictures.

Let's take a look at the Best Picture Oscar nominees for this year. Can you tell how many of these nominated films are based on books? You might wish to phone a friend, but wait one moment.

With a sleuthing mindset and Google Book Search at your disposal, you can discover and dig into source materials for some of the world's most popular movies. Curious about the magical story of Benjamin Button, I typed in a quick query and found book results for a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. How intriguing!

As it happens, all of this year's Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture have some roots in books:
Now then, the richness of books and the mass appeal of movies raise that time-honored question: which is better, the movie or the book?

Regardless of your answer, it's fun to discover and indulge in the delights of each experience. So go ahead! Enjoy the stories however you wish, and let Google help you with both movie showtimes and serendipitous finds of books that you never knew existed. Read the full post 0 comments


Judy's classics continue to Bloom

Friday, February 13, 2009 at 11:41 PM

Inbal Drukker, Online Team

My bookshelves at my parents' home are filled with children's literature, and one of my favorite authors growing up was Judy Blume, who turned 71 yesterday. On a recent trip back home, I spent quite some time in my old room, reflecting on books that affected me most as a child growing up in Israel. Yet this visit was different from previous trips back home. I was thinking about these books not just as an adult but also as the parent of a newborn spending her first autumn at her grandparents' home. Which books will she be reading when she grows up? Will she join the family club of Judy Blume aficionados?

Looking back at my teen years, one of my favorite books was Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I was in awe of her ability to capture the confusion, angst, and the whole range of emotions I was feeling in those crucial years. In Deenie and Blubber, I learned how important acceptance is, while Tiger Eyes taught me about coping with death. I was fascinated by the tense friendships in Just as Long as We're Together. And as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I connected on a very personal level with Blume's Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself which deals with antisemitism.

When my daughter turns 10, we'll share laughs reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge, and as she grows older I will introduce her to more of Judy Blume's work. As someone who cherishes her childhood books and who's helped preserve children's songs, I hope that generations to come will keep reading and learning from Judy Blume's classics. To Life, Judy Blume! Read the full post 0 comments


"The most important single work in science"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 11:04 PM

February 12th is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, and 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species.

An important book on evolutionary biology, it created widespread interest for its controversial ideas that contradicted the leading biology theories of its day. Famously called "the most important single work in science" by scientific historian Bern Dibner, On the Origin of Species revolutionized modern scientific thinking and established Darwin as one of the most influential thinkers of all time.

Only 1,250 copies of the book were printed, of which 1,170 were for sale. Such was the interest in the work that it is believed that all available copies sold on the day of publication. Copies of the first edition are therefore very rare.

With Darwin's anniversary approaching, the Bibliographic Evaluation Team (BET), which is responsible for preparing Oxford University's material for scanning, wanted to make sure that an Oxford copy of On the Origin of Species made it online. There are two first edition copies within the University Library, so we arranged for the Plant Sciences Library copy to be scanned in late January.

While the book was only away from the library for a day, preparing the catalogue metadata took much longer. Thanks to the hard work of the BET and our colleagues at Google, you can now search and read the full text of this classic book online.

On the Origin of Species
is one of many hundreds of thousands of Oxford University books now available through Google Book Search, and we look forward to bringing even more volumes online for scholars and enthusiasts alike. Read the full post 0 comments


Concerning Coraline

Monday, February 09, 2009 at 2:42 PM

"It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares. It's the strangest book I've written, it took the longest time to write, and it's the book I'm proudest of." - Neil Gaiman on Coraline

For US fans of author Neil Gaiman (and anyone who likes a good, creepy story), this weekend's release of the film version of Coraline was cause for big excitement. If you haven't read the book, it's a quick and satisfying read — a young-adult novel that's just as scary and fun for adults. Coraline tells the story of a little girl who opens a secret door in her parents' home which leads to a parallel world. At first, this escape seems like a dream come true, until she realizes that her "other mother" may not be as inviting as she makes herself out to be...

If this piques your curiosity, you can preview the book on Google Book Search and then buy it using the Buy This Book links on the right side of the screen. I spent some time last week reading more about Gaiman in a cool book I found called, "Prince of Stories," and then watched Gaiman's talk as part of the Authors@Google series (skip to about the 24:30 mark to hear him talk about the writing of Coraline - pretty fascinating).

The film adaptation was directed by Henry Selick, the man behind dark and awesome kid classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas and the film version of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. From the trailers I've seen online, the interplay of Selick's style of animated storytelling and Gaiman's fantasy world hints at a movie that might actually be as good as the book it's based on.

So, for all of us who love Gaiman works like Stardust (also recently made into a film), American Gods, and The Wolves in the Walls, this should be a great movie. Happy reading (and movie-going)! Read the full post 0 comments


1.5 million books in your pocket

Thursday, February 05, 2009 at 8:56 AM

One of the great things about an iPhone or Android phone is being able to play Pacman while stuck in line at the post office. Sometimes though, we yearn for something more than just playing games or watching videos.

What if you could also access literature's greatest works, such as Emma and The Jungle Book, right from your phone? Or, some of the more obscure gems such as Mark Twain's hilarious travelogue, Roughing It? Today we are excited to announce the launch of a mobile version of Google Book Search, opening up over 1.5 million mobile public domain books in the US (and over half a million outside the US) for you to browse while buying your postage.

While these books were already available on Google Book Search, these new mobile editions are optimized to be read on a small screen. To try it out and start reading, open up your web browser in your iphone or Android phone and go to

There's an interesting backstory about the work involved to prepare so many books for mobile devices. If you use Google Book Search, you'll notice that our previews are composed of page images made by digitizing physical copies of books. These page images work well when viewed from a computer, but prove unwieldy when viewed on a phone's small screen.

Our solution to make these books accessible is to extract the text from the page images so it can flow on your mobile browser just like any other web page. This extraction process is known as Optical Character Recognition (or OCR for short). The following example demonstrates the difference between page images and the extracted text:

=> "Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson— which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than anyone would think who only knew me through your memoirs. ...

The extraction of text from page images is a difficult engineering task. Smudges on the physical books' pages, fancy fonts, old fonts, torn pages, etc. can all lead to errors in the extracted text. The example below shows the page image from the original manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under Ground. In this extreme case, the extracted text is riddled with errors:

=> "!" .ÍAoHyU- AUte. U brstty/affc. a. f as ~tk¿* , I s&O.IL .éfiiíjz tiotkun-) of-ttmlr1¿*y ¿i^n. sta¿rs ! Jfo» ...

Imperfect OCR is only the first challenge in the ultimate goal of moving from collections of page images to extracted-text based books. Our computer algorithms also have to automatically determine the structure of the book (what are the headers and footers, where images are placed, whether text is verse or prose, and so forth). Getting this right allows us to render the book in a way that follows the format of the original book.

The technical challenges are daunting, but we'll continue to make enhancements to our OCR and book structure extraction technologies. With this launch, we believe that we've taken an important step toward more universal access to books.

To try it out, point your mobile browser to and begin reading. Oh, and if you do bump into some rough patches where the text seems, well, weird, you can just tap on the text to see the original page image for that section of text.

Happy mobile reading!
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