Finding free science books from Springer

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Today the biggest book fair of the world starts again in Frankfurt, Germany. I thought this might be a good opportunity to do you some good!

Springer is one of the most renowned scientific publishing companies in the world. Normally, their books are quite expensive but also in the publishing business Open Access is a megatrend.

If you want to use R in a little fun project to find the latest additions of open access books to their program read on!

The idea is to create an R script which you can run from time to time to see whether there are new titles available. So, we need some place to store the retrieved data in a persistent manner: a database! For our purposes here most database systems would be total overkill but there is one great solution available: the amazing RSQLite package (on CRAN).

This package brings its own lightweight database with it, no need to install any additional software! And it is fully SQL compatible (for Structured Query Language, the industry standard of relational database management systems) like any decent database software.

So, you only have to install the RSQLite package and then load the DBI package (for database interface). To render the output table in an appealing form we will use the htmlTable package (on CRAN).

Have a look at the following fully documented code which should (hopefully) be quite clear:

# inital search for English books from 2019
springer_initial <- read.csv("", encoding = "UTF-8")
# current search for English books from 2020 - has to be updated in the following years!
springer_search <- read.csv("", encoding = "UTF-8")

# open database connection
springer_db <- dbConnect(RSQLite::SQLite(), "my-db.sqlite")

# initialize database
if (!dbExistsTable(springer_db, "search")) {
  dbWriteTable(springer_db, "search", springer_initial)

# read current search table, replace it with new search and compare both
springer_search_old <- dbReadTable(springer_db, "search")
dbRemoveTable(springer_db, "search")
dbWriteTable(springer_db, "search", springer_search)
new_books <- setdiff(springer_search_old, dbReadTable(springer_db, "search"))
if (nrow(new_books) > 0) htmlTable(new_books[c("Item.Title", "Authors", "URL")])

[showing only a subset of the more than 200 (!) free titles in 2019]

Item.Title Authors URL
47 Disrupting Finance Theo LynnProf. John G. MooneyDr. Pierangelo RosatiProf. Mark Cummins
84 Understanding Statistics and Experimental Design Prof. Dr. Michael H. HerzogProf. Dr. Gregory FrancisPh.D. Aaron Clarke
85 InformationConsciousnessReality Dr. James B. Glattfelder
133 Modelling our Changing World Dr. Jennifer L. CastleProf. Dr. David F. Hendry
147 Fundamentals of Clinical Data Science Dr. Pieter KubbenMichel DumontierProf. Dr. Andre Dekker
169 Reality Lost Vincent F. HendricksMads Vestergaard
172 The Brownian Motion Prof. Dr. Andreas LfflerProf. Dr. Lutz Kruschwitz
186 Automated Machine Learning Prof. Dr. Frank HutterLars KotthoffPh.D. Joaquin Vanschoren
209 Lithium-Ion Batteries Beta Writer
# close database connection

And you thought Christmas was yet to come, right!

As an aside, the last entry is an especially interesting case: it is the first machine-generated research book! The “author” Beta Writer was developed in a joint effort and in collaboration between Springer and researchers from Goethe University, Frankfurt. The book is a cross-corpora auto-summarization of current texts from SpringerLink, organized by means of a similarity-based clustering routine in coherent chapters and sections. It automatically condenses a large set of papers into a reasonably short book. More technical details of this fascinating endeavor, with the potential to revolutionize scientific publishing, can be found in the preface of the book.

By clicking on the link you will directly be directed to the respective book page, where you can download the pdf and in most cases also an epub file (bonus tip: in most cases you can also download a free version of the book for your kindle on To get clickable links you need to render an HTML markdown document. Otherwise, if you run it in RStudio directly you will have to copy and paste the links into your browser.

You just have to run the script from time to time to see what is new!

If you want to customize the data retrieved from have a look at their search interface:

You can customize your search by changing the values in the blue boxes. To get the URL which you can paste in the read.csv function above just right click on the button with the down arrow at the upper right corner (marked by the blue arrow) and choose “Copy link address” in the context menu.

In case you want to completely reset the database you can use the following function (with care):

# function for resetting the springer database
reset_springer_db <- function() {
  springer_db <- dbConnect(RSQLite::SQLite(), "my-db.sqlite")
  dbRemoveTable(springer_db, "search")

One small thing: although I tried my very best there still seems to be an issue with the encoding… some special characters, like the German umlauts äöüÄÖÜ, are just not rendered. If you have a solution for me please leave it in the comments and I will add it to the post (or perhaps even write a post on the issues of encoding in R, RStudio and Windows).

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