It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. When he opened A Tale of Two Cities with this line, Charles Dickens couldn't have known he was also describing the Internet: wisdom from all that knowledge at our fingertips, and foolishness -- where to start?
Dickens is celebrated by Google today with an illustration on the home page, depicting beloved characters including Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge. And you can read his legendary works for free in digital form.
The Dickensian doodle promotes Google ebooks. Where previous doodles simply search the web for information on the subject, this one goes straight to the books section, headed by a list of free Google ebooks. From early classics such as The Adventures of Oliver Twist to later works like Our Mutual Friend and everything in between, Dickens' work can be read on your ebook reader, Android or Apple phone or tablet, and in your browser.
Google ebooks are available in the EPUB open standard format, or as PDFs. That means they can be read on ebook readers from Sony and Kobo, but not on the popular Amazon Kindle. The Kindle is likely to support EPUB at some stage, but at present is primarily based around its own ebook format for books bought from Amazon.
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on this day in 1812, in Portsmouth. His early life was a hard one: when his entire family was thrown in debtor's prison, he was forced to leave school and work in cruel factory conditions. He was able to return to school, worked as a clerk and then a journalist, before publishing his first story in 1833.
His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was serialised in 1836. Most of his novels were serialised in magazines, with early successes including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. His fame during his lifetime was such that during a trip to America -- where he confirmed his staunch opposition to slavery -- he was able to call upon then President John Tyler.
A strong believer in social justice, Dickens helped found a home for fallen women and raised money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. In 1865 he survived a train crash, before maintaining a gruelling schedule of reading tours in both Britain and the US. Dickens died in 1870, midway through his final work The Mystery of Edwin Drood.