Chest of Books
By Jim Francis
Copyright © 2010, Jim Francis, All Rights Reserved
"Write about what you know" is often the command given to students of creative writing. This is usually taken to mean writing about one's life experiences, but it doesn't need to be so. Subjects can also be studied and knowledge gained.
Can a writer have too many reference resources in which to seek knowledge? I don't think so, and that makes Chest of Books, a repository of mostly public domain instructional books, very attractive.
Have you ever had to abandon an idea because a search for a tiny piece of critical historical information brings up shoals of impertinent data? Chest of Books could provide the solution to your problem. Think of a gold mine of research information. A dusting of data here, a dusting there, and nuggets abound, with a chance of a mother lode that will allow the writer to instil sense of authenticity into their writing. Nearly all the information is pre-1921, much from the mid to late 1800s, with the exception of a few more recent books and articles such as the ones on computing. There is also a section of classic novels.
Suppose your story is set in the late 19th century in a big city. Your protagonist lives there but spends time in the country and loves to hunt. A site search for hunting brings up a page with tags at the bottom for hunting, field, birds, dogs, etc. And there is usually a reference link from these back to a book on the site. The books have publisher and published date information. So far I've found books from the middle 1800s up to the early 1900s
So what can you expect to find in this treasure chest? Under Crafts you will find the Scientific American Reference Book that covers far more than space here allows to be listed. Want to know about the development of submarines? It's in there. Shipping, yes. Hunting. The Polar Regions. They're covered. Maybe you're writing about Europe and need to know something about the Swiss Railways. How about Provisioning the "Kronprinz Wilhelm" for a Single Transatlantic Trip. That's there as well. Also several Scientific American magazines from the 1880s, plus links to about seventy of Scientific's supplements.
Volumes 1 and 2 of The Boy Mechanic come under Crafts and Hobby Books. Other topics listed under Crafts include ones like metalwork, with several entries, and making fireworks. Perfumes are covered in another section, plus house building guides; dogs, cats, birds, and horses; a mother cat and kitten story from 1922; business books, including one on selling life insurance; banking; international trade; and economics in the early 20th century.
A guide to Canadian and northern US poisonous plants is also available. Thinking of writing murder, eh!
You can learn about edible toadstools and mushrooms, and how to recognise them; bachelor cooking; Mom's best recipes; fishing; and lots, lots more. A small selection of Law books is also included.
The site does have a search engine, but it doesn't search the individual books. Instead, it searches the whole site. Books are presented in chapters to be read online, and while the books are public domain, Stasosphere, which offers this material, claims copyright of this presentation because of all the work that went into scanning and Optical Character Recognition processing.
Whatever your needs or interest in scientific or natural history might be, clearly this is a fine place to start your search.