I love reading and I really love free stuff, so you can imagine the happiness I felt when I stumbled across Project Gutenberg.
For those who don’t know, Project Gutenberg is the largest online collection of free ebooks. And it’s not garbage like “101 Your-Mom Jokes” or “99 Ways to Make Money on the Internet.” I’m talking about classics like “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
It turns out that these books (and others like them) used to be under copyright but the copyright expired, allowing the book to fall into the public domain. Books in the public domain belong to us, the public. This is awesome because we don’t have to pay for things that we rightfully own.
What’s more, lots of benevolent organizations have taken up the mission to make public domain books available to the public over the internet. This usually involves lots of scanning or transcribing of old degrading library books in order to make digital replicates (just like FamilySearch Indexing!). While gutenberg.org has the largest collection of public domain books online, other projects like Google Books, Wikisource, and Internet Archive, also collect these kind of books. In fact there are tons of digital library projects to explore if this kind of thing interests you.
Unfortunately, the US Copyright law is stricter than most countries, requiring a copyrighted book to remain in the market for 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation (whichever is shorter). Consequently, most books in this category are pretty old. But don’t despair! I’m here to tell you that there are some buried gems amongst the dusty volumes of of antiquated text. Plus, the way the laws worked out, all books published before 1923 are in the public domain as well. It doesn’t take much looking before you find some really good stuff.
With that in mind, here are my top 5 free books online:
1. As a Man Thinketh - by James Allen
This is a phenomenal short book that a missionary buddy showed me. It discusses the importance of thoughts and how they affect who we are. It is inspirational and very quotable. I mean, just listen to this:
“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” Chew on that for awhile. You can download the pdf of “As a Man Thinketh” here.
2. The Go-getter - by Peter B. Kyne
I read this book in one sitting after it was recommended by one of my college professors. Its an easy read and a fun story with a cool anecdote. You could also see it as an instruction book for how to kick butt at life. I found it on Google Books, so search for it there, or download a copy here.
3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - by Mark Twain
This book is a true classic. Sure, it’s not Harry Potter, but it takes you back in time and brings a completely different world to life. It’s very entertaining, so the least you can do is culture yourself and give it a good read. You can read it here at Gutenberg and download it in a variety of formats.
4. Consolation of Philosophy - by Boethius
You know when the author has a name like that (no last name, sounds greek, etc.) that it’s going to be a tough read… but stick with me. This one is worth it. It was written by Boethius in the year 524 while he sat in prison for treason, prior to his execution. Although not strictly religious, it has been called the single most important and influential work in the West early Renaissance Christianity. The author takes on questions such as the nature of free will, why evil men often prosper and good men fall into ruin, human nature, virtue, and justice. It will take a few brain cells to digest, but try a couple of pages and you’ll see that it’s not that bad. You can read it here on Google Books.
5. The Way to Wealth - by Benjamin Franklin
More of a pamphlet than a book, this is a collection of thoughts and advice for helping a man become wealthy. Though written in 1758, you’d be surprised how true the counsel rings today (and how infrequently it is followed). Much of what is said is Proverbial in nature because many of the statements are excerpts from Franklin’s famous Poor Richard’s Almenack. The Way to Wealth is a must read for anyone who wants some common sense financial advice from a very wealthy man. You can read it or download it here.
So those are my favorites, but where do you go to find your top five? Check out Project Gutenberg’s Top 100 Downloaded list for a start. It’s also nice to browse Google books (although not all of their stuff is free). Wherever you look, you’ll feel good realizing that all these books are yours, and you didn’t even know it. It’s kind of like finding a 5 dollar bill in your pocket.