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It’s old news that the entire run of Spy magazine is available on Google Books. A poke through the archive will give you an excellent sense of why the magazine was so riveting and influential in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when founders Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen were running the show. If you’re unfamiliar with Spy, read this piece from Metropolis or get your hands on the definitive anthology, Spy: The Funny Years.

Scrolling through the pages of Spy in Google Books using a desktop or laptop web browser isn’t a great reading experience. Luckily, there’s a much better option: Using a Mac desktop app called Google Book Downloader, you can scrape Google Books to create PDFs of many of the publications and books in Google’s archive. (I’m sure there must be Windows apps that do the same thing.)

Creating a PDF of Spy Magazine via Google Book Downloader

On a recent weekend afternoon, I used Google Book Downloader to generate a PDF of every issue from Spy’s heyday, then pulled everything into my Dropbox account to allow me to access the archive from anywhere and any device — primarily my iPad. The whole process took me less than two hours. The filesize of the PDFs ranges from about 25 megabytes to about 50 megabytes, and the quality is quite high; the issues look fantastic on my new iPad’s retina screen. An iPad gives a much better approximation of an actual print-magazine experience than a web browser does, and if you save an issue into a PDF-friendly interface like Amazon’s Kindle app, you can use page thumbnails to navigate. It’s pretty sweet:

Spy Magazine on an iPad

Spy Magazine on an iPad

It’s a real treat to have the entire Spy archive at my fingertips, in a way that allows me to curl up with an issue on the couch.

You can use Google Book Downloader with other magazines, too. Try Popular Science, August 1927, or Baseball Digest, September 1966, to name just two at random…