Sunday, June 12, 2011

Google Books and Google Libri

Here's a gold mine of quality information that not many use or even know about. Most people use Google as a search engine only, and only for its first part, the Web. And even then they often don't use advanced search to refine their queries. For shame!

But if you look at the classic Google page you will see various headings after "Web." One of these is Books (you'll have to look under the "more" link). This, as opposed to the Web search, will lead you exclusively to the texts of books and magazines, all of them scanned and digitalized by Google. So that what you have is a way to access published material, much of it recent and copyrighted, and bypass purely Web-generated content. Even now, the average quality of published material is superior to the average quality of Web material, so this is a significant advantage.

When you go to Google Books, you will see that some books (older books not under copyright) are available in their entirety. This is an excellent source for classics. You will find, for example, Machiavelli's Prince in English and Italian, and also Leopardi's poems. But of many other books, even very recent, there is a Preview available, often running even to a hundred or more pages. Using your search keywords, you will be able to find all sorts of info from books and magazines.

Some of the things you can find in Google Books: published recipes of all sorts, some of them by famous chefs and cookbook authors; reliable published travel information, often from magazines and well-known guidebooks; plenty of stuff on the Italian language from regular textbooks and grammars, including exercises; ample extracts from books or authors you're interested in- the equivalent of browsing in a bookstore.

To get to all this, what I usually do is a cross-sectional search. That is, I don't start from the book title or author, I start with relevant keywords e.g. "scampi alla busara recipe" or "Italian imperfect tense" or "Borromean islands." If you know Italian, you will of course input your keywords in Italian, or go to Italian Google ( and find the link Libri. But even Google Libri has ample material in English, so that to restrict your results you should still use Italian keywords.

There are other useful features, such as sorting by date (most recent publications first) and a personalized library shelf where you can store your findings. Recently and inevitably, Google has monetized Books, so that you will also be able to buy e-books directly from the site.