Paperless Perusal: Downloading Classics for Free

July 13, 2010 Updated: October 8, 2018

The enTourage eDGe e-book is displayed at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center January 7, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The enTourage eDGe e-book is displayed at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center January 7, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
In an ever-growing market for mobile devices that can perform a plethora of tasks, ebook readers are the latest invention. For those who prefer the convenience of accessing new books in a matter of seconds and the ability to shop for books in the comfort of your own home, ebooks are the way to go.

For current titles, ebooks can be purchased at popular ebook reader sites, like barnesandnoble.com for the nook or amazon.com for the Kindle. But for older texts, including venerable world classics, ebooks can be downloaded for free.

Project Gutenberg

“Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books,” according to the popular ebook site. Founded by Michael Hart, who invented the ebook in 1971, Project Gutenberg contains over 100,000 volumes of free ebooks. Titles can be easily searched by title or author. They are also arranged by genre and language, with texts in over 50 different languages.

One of Project Gutenberg’s strengths lies in its immense library of rich pickings, which includes a large collection of literature from both the Eastern and Western traditions. Here, you can find Western classics by the likes of Shakespeare and James Joyce, and “Beowulf” in its original Old English, but also famed Chinese classical novel, “Dream of the Red Chamber.” Many of these works are available in their original language and also in English translation.

The ebooks at Project Gutenberg are legally free to download in the United States because the copyrights for the books have expired. For readers from elsewhere though, the website suggests they “check the copyright laws of their countries before downloading or redistributing our ebooks.”

Best of all, ebooks at Project Gutenberg are available to download in practically every format possible, from plain text and HTML to Mobipocket, which is compatible with Blackberrys. Downloads are straightforward and easy. If preferred, the books can also be read directly online.

Internet Archive

Another great resource is the Internet Archive, which acts as a digital library, offering free access to ebooks, audio files, and videos. Their goal is to archive and preserve “cultural artifacts” in digital format for the digital age. “The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet—a new medium with major historical significance—and other ‘born-digital’ materials from disappearing into the past,” said the Web site. Perhaps for this reason, registered users ( registration is free) are also able to upload content onto the Archive.

The ebooks range from world classics to research papers and government nonclassified documents. The audio archive houses a collection of audio books, podcasts, and radio programs, while the site’s “Moving Image Archive” contains movies, news broadcasts, and cartoons.

Most of the ebooks are organized into sub-collections by the library they originated from. The site has an impressive compilation from numerous American and Canadian universities and even the Library of Congress. Most of the ebooks are scans of the hard copies, which are viewable on the website, but downloadable versions are also available.

Unfortunately, with such a vast collection, the site is a bit difficult to navigate. Treasures may go unnoticed if one does not have a specific title to search. But the Internet Archive should be commended for their attempt nonetheless.

Ebooks For Purchase

For purchasing current titles, Barnes and Noble’s offers a great variety, with over one million ebooks, enewspapers, and emagazines. Amazon.com offers slightly less, at 620,000 plus. Digital texts can be purchased and viewed on other handheld devices other than the Kindle or the nook, as well as the computer, with the free reading application from Barnes and Noble or Amazon that can be downloaded from their respective sites. Ebook prices at Barnes and Noble and Amazon are generally the same and are cheaper than the hard copies at bookstores.

Another good ebook site is ebooks.com, though some titles are more expensive than the former two. Ebooks.com also has a large selection of academic ebooks in a number of academic disciplines from both the sciences and humanities. The ebooks are available in epub, PDF, Mobipocket, and Microsoft Reader format, but some titles do not have all four versions.

World eBook Fair

This month, Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and a number of other free ebook sites are partnering to hold the Fifth Annual World eBook Fair, which will make over 3 and a half million ebooks available for free download on its Web site. The fair runs from July 4 to August 4 and also includes music, movies, and dance choreography.

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