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Best interactive books for iPad

The iPad can serve as a standard e-book reader, but it also offers a unique platform for a growing number of book-app hybrids that are pushing the limits of digital publishing. Whether you love history, science, music, art, space travel, or just love the digitally-enhanced written word, there's a book-app just for you. We've compiled some of the very best for you here.

Virtual History ROMA

by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A.

Starting with ancient history is Virtual History ROMA. The first of a series of interactive books for iPad from Italian publishing giant Mondadori Virtual History has set the bar in digital Publishing for iOS. Both of their titles (the other is Virtual History – The Last Supper) use a proprietary technology to incorporate a feature they call a “Bubble Viewer.” This unique viewer allows readers to immerse themselves in a fully three-dimensional environment, by rotating the iPad as you would rotate your head to view a surrounding. Whether it’s the Roman baths or the market at Pompeii, the experience is one of seeing everything, from all sides, up and down, in rich detail. Combine that feature with interactive timelines, 3D objects to rotate, overlays and more and the use of technology alone makes this book well worth the $10 investment. How does it read? Remarkably well. Roma is not an academic title, but the prose is fluent and the breadth, from pre-Roman Italy to the rise of the “barbarians” after the fall, is outstanding. Whether you like art and history, gladiators, architecture, or mythology, if it happened in Ancient Rome, Roma has it covered in an insightful and delightful new way.

Kings and Queens by David Starkey

by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Moving forward in time a bit is Kings and Queens by David Starkey. If you are a lover of British Royal history, and you don’t know David Starkey, it’s time to get yourself acquainted with the masterful author and BBC documentarian. His scholarship on the topic is irreproachable, and he has a way of bringing potentially dry, but actually bulging-with-intrigue, stories of the great rulers of the northern European island kingdom to life in vivid color. This book-app brings you the best of his superlative writing, with a host of interactive features including videos from the TV persona, but also timelines, detailed family trees, and the abridged version of the text book. It’s too late to see it live now, but a neat feature was the live in-app coverage by Sky-news, of the Royal Wedding. But if you are a fan of Wills and Kate, the archive is well stocked with great information and videos too. A must-have for any British royalty buff or fan of The Tudors.

Shakespeare In Bits: Macbeth iPad Edition

by Mindconnex Learning Ltd.

There is also a Romeo and Juliet version of this unusual and wholly unique offering from Mindconnex. It’s a whole new approach to studying the great bard’s works, and it’s so much fun we hope to see Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer’s Nights Dream, and the rest of the complete works served up in the same GUI soon. Shakespeare In Bits offers a fully animated and voiced study edition of the play, dynamic text features, easy-to-access modern language translations, and a complete study guide in an easy on the eyes and the brain package. The voice-actors are wonderful, speaking in a cadence to promote understudying, but with inflection and appropriate accents. Because it's animated doesn’t mean they dumb it down, this isn’t a Cliff Notes-style app. The full text is presented and spoken, just made more engaging, especially for young people. Whether you are a Shakespeare lover, a willing college student, or a high-schooler being force-fed Macbeth in a dry, formulaic and uninspired way, you have to check out this app and this series.

The History of Jazz - an interactive timeline

by 955 Dreams

Music lovers have a plethora of great book-apps to choose from. The History of Jazz is one of the best and most popular. The publishers call it an “interactive timeline” which aptly sums up what this book-app offers. Music is meant to be heard, not read, so the app is a tad text-light, but very video-rich. Using a navigation menu that look like construction paper piano keys, you can explore this uniquely American musical genre from its birth in the 1890’s through to the present day. This book-app is crammed full of YouTube-hosted videos showing live performances of everyone from the great Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, to Joshua Redmond, the African-American, Jewish Berkley saxophonist, whose “Molten Soul” music is leading Jazz in daring new directions. Ragtime, New Orleans Classic, Dixieland, Chicago, “Jazz Age” Big Band, swing, bebop, cool jazz, slow fusion, acid jazz, even vocal jazz, it’s all here, in a simple engaging format. Don't plan on enjoying the book-app offline though, it requires an internet connection to stream the videos. Jazz fans and the uninitiated will learn from the minimalist but informative text, and performances by Kenny G, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and almost every other Jazz great. It's treat for the eyes and the ears.

Andrew Zuckerman: Music

by PQ Blackwell Limited

This app is a rocker's dream app and has been teasing us by making frequent appearances on Staff Favorites for so long we had to check it out for this list. It’s a veritable feast for music lovers, and while it’s not the newest app in digital publishing, it holds up well. And, it will appeal to a broader cross-section of rock aficionados as there seems to be no genre barrier for Zuckerman, who has published a book with the same title. This book-app features a cross-section of over 50 musicians who "provide their perspectives on one of the most universal and yet unexplainable art forms." Expect portraits and videos for each included musician with extra goodies like interviews and more short films. Sorting is simple, sharing irresistible. The app links to iTunes are provided if you want to purchase the music you hear. This is a no-brainer for anyone who wants a back-stage pass for an intimate encounter with giants of the genre.

On the way to Woodstock

by 955 Dreams

On the Way to Woodstock is another "interactive timeline" book, by the same publisher as "Jazz." We think it's great too. The book-app follows the tried-and-true format and essentially uses the same GUI as History of Jazz, but the publishers turn their attention instead to the American experience in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was that idealized American era when everything seemed possible but in which any given day seemed like the most important and potentially the last on Earth. Videos and text take you from the idealized 1950’s through the social, cultural and political upheaval of the 1960’s and only then delves into the festival which in many ways was the culmination of the epoch. Whether you wore tie-die and watched Jimmy Hendrix shred the Star Spangled banner live, or you went to a revival festival, or you are just intrigued by this most American of times, this digital book and its grooves simply can't be beat.

Man In Space

by Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited

Man In Space is a digital rendition of the 50th anniversary edition of Sky at Night Magazine. While not a book, per se, both the print issue and the iOS version contains much more text than many of the "books" on this list. It traces the history of space travel from Yuri Gagarin's first spaceflight in 1961 to the International Space Station and into the future. This BBC (Bristol, the publishers, are the BBC's magazine division) book-app features everything in the print edition, accompanied by photos, video and interactive features. The GUI is wonderful. The menu system is intuitive, the images are crisp and the text is well-integrated with the digital features. The 3D images are a standout. Man In Space, unlike book-apps such as Woodstock or The History of Jazz, contain all the videos embedded within the app. This is great for off-line reading, as the other books require an internet connection to stream from Youtube, but it does mean the book will use a lot of memory on your iPad. If you like outer space it's well worth the iPad space.

Ansel Adams

by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

If art and photography are more up your alley than music and history, iconic American landscape photographer Ansel Adams has a coffee-table book out on iPad that is a feast for fans of his work. The book contains 40 high-resolution photos highlighting his best works and maximizing the iPad's crisp display. This is a paring down of author Andrea Stillman’s 400-piece collection in print, and focuses largely on his shots of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a place he called home. You can pinch-to-zoom into the breathtaking shots or listen to the captions read aloud. The app includes a section on “Letters and Images," Ansel’s postcards and a collection of three short videos featuring the genius himself. It's a sumptuous book-app for photography lovers, and those who want to see how art can shine in new ways on iPad.

Master Your DSLR Camera: A Better Way to Learn Digital Photography

by Inkling Systems, Inc.

After being inspired by Ansel Adams, perhaps you'll decide it's finally time to dust off that DSLR (or purchase one) and really learn how to use it. Reading the owner's manual that comes with the camera is so very dry. Taking a photography class is out of reach for many people, whether because of the time commitment or the financial one. A nice in-between option is this book app, Master Your DSLR Camera: A Better Way to Learn Digital Photography. Swipe around the book to learn about just the aspects you're interested in, even if you're starting from the very beginning. Videos enhance the experience. Get off the green square mode and finally master your DSLR.

The Elements by Theodore Gray

by Touch Press

Science is another important genre that has some great e-books. If you’ve seen the original iPad ads, you’ve already met The Elements, the first in a series of three books (The Planets and Gems and Jewels being the others) from this publisher. This book-app focuses on the periodic table of elements, in a way that will engage even the least scientific of readers. From the opening song listing the elements to the ever-catchy tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “A Modern Major General," to the optional 3-D specs you can purchase for an small fee to see each of the distinct building blocks that make up our world, the app puts the entertainment into edu-tainment in a serious way. There isn’t text per se, the data on each element is pulled from superlative science search WolframAlpha, but that’s a plus since their information is the best. And, while this is this can't serve as a textbook, it will certainly get you through your Chem 101 final in a more pleasant way than the tome you likely paid $75 for back in September.

Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

by Push Pop Press, Inc.

Al Gore has transitioned from another former Vice President taking photo-ops to being one of the preeminent spokespeople for the Global Warning movement. He is now at least as well known for his books and speeches on the subject as for anything he did in office. The Vice President greets readers with a video explaining the importance of the subject matter, and then readers can swipe through the visual table of contents and pop open a page with a tap. The app is based on the apparently text-richer book by the name title, and is loaded with videos, of course. The unfolding photos and photo commentary are standout features. If you care about the subject matter or want to see how non-fiction can exploit the digital publishing landscape, you should definitely check this one out.

Here On Earth

by Arcade Sunshine Media, LLC.

We first picked this title as an ideal choice for Earth Day, and it still stands as a great choice for the science-minded with a more serious academic bent. Or anyone interested in evolution, and all of the scientific and cultural issues it touches. Tim Flannery's book about Darwin, Dawkins, evolution, and how to reshape our thinking for a new age, is an ideal choice. The multimedia version of the bestselling work, "traces the history of the planet, the history of humanity, and the impact that we have had on our planet." Before you balk at the price, the text iBook is only a dollar less; in print, it's more. Here the text is accompanied by 25 Interviews with the author, videos from award-winning filmmakers, social network integration, even Air Play support. It’s not for the intellectually timid, but the special features make the book more accessible to a wider audience. It's another benchmark for interactive books in any genre.

SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure


While the previous books listed are fantastic books, let's dive into something a bit more imaginative. Download SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventure and prepare to be taken on quite the adventure. Readers will still get their reading fix while being able to be a part of the investigation happening before them. Read the original text or have it read to you with the audio version, then dive into the story and live it. The animations are stunning, the search mode is fun, and the interactive map is phenomenal. This is definitely what interactive books should be.

George R. R. Martin’s A World of Ice and Fire – A Game of Thrones Guide

by Random House LLC

If you are a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series, better known as Game of Thrones, then you may want to check out George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire - A Game of Thrones Guide. The book is initially free to purchase, but there are a handful of in-app purchases that can make this the ultimate interactive guide. Without any purchases, you get eight point of view characters from the first book, information about select places, and an awesome map that makes visualizing the story so much easier. All in all, this app will take your Game of Thrones experience to the next level.