7 Sites for Free Books

When it comes to lists, the worst possible thing is overload. Who actually follows those “31 Things or Steps to Whatever” lists all the way? Certainly less than half of the people that read them; half of half of half of half of half of half might be a more reasonable number. It’s not the reader’s fault; it’s the creators fault. If someone’s reading a list like that, it stands to reason that what they want is good advice. They don’t want everything under the sun (unless they’re aiming for breadth).

Information overload is real. It’s paralyzing. If a list goes into double-digits, it’s a reference, not a listicle. It’s hoping to get more clicks or keep you reading even after the author knows you’ve disengaged. The worst ones are split over 2 or more pages for more ad revenue. Ads are the easiest form of revenue, but should only be a last resort.

There are very few times when you actually need that many resources:

  1. An actual compendium of resources. This should be easily navigable – not ranked from best to worst or the reverse, but something simple like alphabetical order.
  2. Something that requires scanning before (or even instead of) reading. Reading 20+ pieces of productivity advice is unproductive because to enact it, you must read it thoroughly; scanning 20 meal recipes is more reasonable, as you know what you like and don’t (I don’t like soup, for example, so I’ll probably skip those kinds of recipes.)
  3. Something made for discovery, such as the websites below. Each of them have more books than you’ll ever be able to read; they’re made to satisfy those who know what they’re looking for as well as those who have no clue what they want.

That’s why I’m only listing 7 sites here. They’re ranked alphabetically and the list is easily perusable if you’d prefer that. Do you want more? Then check out the Free Resources page. You’ll find more sites there across different disciplines, all alphabetized. It’s a resource page, though, not one and done. Come back to it when you need it; it’ll always be there. Obviously excluded is this humble site, Librecron.

  1. Bartleby – Bartleby makes a decent number of titles available in an easily navigable alphabetized list. They also have all of the Harvard Classics – 70 volumes in total – available. Do you want a liberal arts education for free? Read through them all.

  2. HathiTrust – It’s impossible to describe HathiTrust in a few short sentences. It has millions of readable titles – more than you’ll likely ever get through (unless you find the secret of immortality in which case, let me know). It’s probably better to get started with its collections, although even some of these have thousands of titles in them. You can either read the PDF scans of the original public domain work or read a text-only version.

  3. OpenLibrary – OpenLibrary gets millions of views every month. Its stated goal is to create a web page for every book ever written. It links out to downloads for books, as well as places you can borrow them from (when it comes to newer books). The catalog is editable, so users can also make edits. Think Wikipedia for books.

  4. Project Gutenberg – Project Gutenberg is probably the most popular site to get free books from. They have tens of thousands of books available in several formats – EPUB (with or without images), Kindle (with or without images), plain-text, HTML, and TeX. Projects like Librecron rely on Gutenberg to provide the original. They use the following format: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1 If you want some random book, replace that 1 at the end of the URL with any number, like 100. Try it out.

  5. Standard Ebooks – Standard Ebooks is a volunteer driver project that takes books from Project Gutenberg and makes them much more enjoyable to read. They focus on typography, rich metadata, and enhancing the reading experience on digital devices as a whole.

  6. The Digital Public Library of America – The DPLA makes more than 33 million items (images, text, videos, and sound) available to the public. It also has exhibitions, making it something of an online museum.

  7. The Online Book Page – The Online Book Page was started in 1993 by John Mark Ockerbloom and is updated often. It indexes more than 3,000,000 free books.

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