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Zorba’s Guide to Free Ebooks

Zorba’s Guide to Free Ebooks

Latest update: 2010.September.15
Original version: 2010.January.08

Ebooks Cannot Be Destroyed by Fire.

Ebooks Cannot Be Killed by Fire.

[ Editor's note: This web page is Chapter 3 from my book/ebook: 50 Benefits of Ebooks: A Thinking Person's Guide to the Digital Reading Revolution. 50 Benefits is published every year, in September. This list will be updated every Spring. — Michael Pastore.]

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free ebook. And before you can say Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, you can be downloading and reading these ebooks on your dedicated device, your smartphone, or your personal computer.

[ Jump down this page to instantly see the Free Ebook Websites! ]

There are more than 1.5 million free ebooks, waiting for you to read online or download. Not only the quantity, but the quality is remarkable. You can find and read works by Homer, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Austen, Dickinson, Dickens, George Eliot, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Hesse — and countless more. Many of these books are available not only in English, but in dozens of other languages. And you can download and listen to free audiobooks, too, usually offered in the format known as  mp3.

Most of what is available are books, fiction and non-fiction, which are in the public domain; and most of these were written in the year 1922 or before. You’ll also find books after the year 1922, books whose copyrights have not been renewed. There are modern books, too —  books that the publisher or author chooses to distribute to the world at no cost, because they want the books to be widely read. Some popular authors, such as Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow, sell their new paperbacks, and simultaneously allow you — and encourage you — to download their ebook versions for free.

I’m always surprised, and usually delighted, about my free ebook finds. Last month, my free ebook downloads or online reads included The Gadfly by E. L. Voynich;  Lincoln by Gore Vidal;  Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe; The Adventures of a Squirrel, Supposed to be Related by Himself, by Anonymous; and works by Willa Cather, and the Grimm Brothers. My non-fiction freebies included History of Woman Suffrage by Susan B. Anthony;  Beethoven, the Man and the Artist, by Beethoven;  a book about the future of education by Friedrich Nietzsche; and an economic speech by President Obama.

There are five ways to find free ebooks:

— Use search engines;

— Set up RSS feeds;

— Visit your public library or university library;

—Visit web pages or directories with collections of free ebooks; or

—Visit any of the many free ebook websites.


Readers, Be Aware !

One should download ebooks from the Net the same way that porcupines make love: very carefully.

If you are a beginning computer user, do not simply search Google for “free ebooks”, and then eagerly download anything that results. Instead of that men’s magazine that you were hoping for, you might be downloading harmful or annoying malware that damages your computer, tries to sell you real estate on Jupiter’s moons, or steals your private information.

Beginners should stick with trusted sources for downloading ebooks.

Beginners, computer experts, and everyone in between should scan all downloads with antivirus software.

Another good idea: Use a full-featured unzipping software tool, such as Zipeg. Many of your ebook downloads come to you as compressed files, in the formats of .zip or .rar. When you use Zipeg (or other unzipping tools that have this feature), before extracting the contents of the compressed file, you can peek into the folder, and see what files are contained inside. And then you select whichever files that you want to decompress.

This afternoon I downloaded an ebook that came zip-packaged with another file, titled: “Make Money at Home!”. Using Zipeg, I unzipped the ebook only, ignored the spam file, and then trashed the original .rar file.

With wild abandon — and cautious fearlessness — read on, for our gargantuan list of favorite resources for discovering free ebooks.


Find Free ebooks Using Search Engines

One more caution before we begin: when you search for free ebooks, be aware that you may accidentally wander into some problem websites.

Some of these sites which promise free ebooks will be “useless but harmless”: one site re-directed me to a web page of apartments for rent in the Bahamas. Another site offered a directory of ebooks that were illegally pirated – before downloading, I would want to learn if the author approved. Another “free ebook” site pointed me to some compressed files, which could have contained a dangerous virus, but managed only to force my computer to play an annoying series of songs.

Without naming names of naughty web sites, here is a small hint: when your just-found ebook is published after 1922 and it is offered on a file-sharing website, as a .rar file — your inner warning bells should start a-ringing. Most likely, you are about to download a pirated copy of a copyrighted book.

When searching for free ebooks, I have one rule. If the free ebook website offers any works that guarantee I can make a million dollars in a month, improve my sexual performance, win every argument, de-wrinkle my face, double my IQ, triple my energy, and master the cosmic laws of attraction — I immediately delete the web link and very quickly move on.

I have not yet found a dedicated search engine with one and only one purpose: to search the entire Internet for all the world’s free ebooks. Instead, you can use your favorite general search engine such as Google (, or Yahoo Search (  If you are searching for PDF ebooks only, then you can use Google (tweak it to look for just PDF files); or one of the newer PDF search engines, such as Data-Sheet, (

To find books on Project Gutenberg (more about PG, below), you can use Anacleto, a search engine that describes itself as “relevant, fast, reliable, convenient, and compatible”.

Visit Anacleto here:

RSS feeds for Free Ebooks

Some of the free ebook super-sites – including Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive – offer the option of getting an RSS feed that lists their newly released free ebooks. Try it: I bet that you’ll amazed at the number of new free ebooks that are made available every day, that can come directly to you, via the lazy-man’s solution to information management: RSS.

Ebooks At Your Local Public Library or University Library

Many libraries now carry collections of ebooks and audiobooks. These are contemporary books, not in the public domain, and not available on any of the free ebook websites. For more information, ask your reference librarian.

Every week, my friend “checks out” audiobooks from our public library. She loves them, and they are free. And I must confess, that when I looked online at my local library catalog, and saw one of my favorite books in audio (by Erich Fromm), I was tempted to test it out.

But I didn’t check out the book. I am allergic to DRM. I don’t like to install potentially-unfriendly software onto my computer simply to listen, to watch, or to read. Most of all, I can’t yield to the miserly ebook distribution model: if an ebook is checked out by one library patron, then it cannot be read by another at the same time. Like the poet whose reach surpassed his grasp, I want to passionately shout: “But the whole world’s wisdom should be shared with everyone, or what’s an ebook for!”

The typical library ebook experience that I have seen is not for me. Try it for yourself and then decide.


Woodcut of a printing press (1568).

Woodcut of a printing press in 1568.

Burning Library Ebooks

My friendly neighborhood reference librarian has recently informed me that, in some cases, you are permitted to burn a copy of these library-owned ebooks to a CD or DVD. This makes the library-ebook experience a little less uninteresting to me. On the plus side, you circumvent the absurd 3-week loan period. On the minus side, you’ll still need the DRM reading software on your computer.


In addition to asking at your local libraries, take a look at this list of ebook lending libraries, from the MobileRead Wiki. Some of the sites you’ll find here offer free ebooks, others charge fees.

Ten Approaches to Finding Free Ebooks

When I think about the galaxies of free ebooks available, my mind spins, and I experience what Erich Fromm has called “the dizzying disorientation of freedom.” To clear my head for concentrated ebook finding, I have  organized the free ebook-related websites into ten categories. You can read the categories first; and then below them, you will find my favorite sources for free ebooks.

A.  Free Ebook Websites

B.  Ebook Directories: Sites That List Free Ebook Websites

C.  Ebook Search Sites and Ebook Search Engines

D.  Audiobooks

E.  Ebooks About Aspects of Writing, Publishing, Internet, and Epublishing

F.  Literature, Classic Books, Biographies

G.  Nonfiction Ebooks (including Science, Technology and Computer Ebooks)

H.  Scholarly Offerings

I.   Children’s Literature

J.   Pastore’s Picks: 1,001 Noteworthy Ebooks to Read Before You Diet

A. Free Ebook Websites

Project Gutenberg

■  Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg (PG), the grandfather of the free ebook movement, was founded in 1971. PG contains  more than 30,000 plain-text and HTML ebooks.

■  Project Gutenberg CD and DVD Project

Project Gutenberg Consortia Center (PGCC)

A source of more than 75,000 HTML ebooks.

Project Gutenberg: Partners, Affiliates and Resources

The whole network of PG, worldwide, is listed and linked here.

■  Google Book Search

An enormous collection of public-domain books — more than 1.5 million titles  — have been scanned by Google staff and its partners. These ebooks are in the PDF image format: sadly, you cannot copy and paste the text from your screen. You may, however, search the books to find specific passages, or read the books online, or download the PDF files. Many books are complete; and most of these are in the public domain. (These are called “Full View” – you may read or download the entire book.) Others books here — submitted by publishers or authors — contain just a preview: sample pages from the book.

In addition to the PDF format, Google now offers these books in the EPUB format. As you would expect with “machine conversion”, there are more than a few formatting problems. However, I looked at three of Google’s EPUB ebooks, and I was able to read them without too much inconvenience.

— Google Book Search:

— Google Book Search blog:

■  Google Book Search Mobile

“It is now possible for anyone with an iPhone, Android, or Nokia S60 to better access the public domain books in Google Book Search with a new mobile-friendly interface. Users can read 1.5 million books, from anywhere with an internet connection, by pointing their phone’s browser to … ”

■  Internet Archive

The Internet Archive was founded by the philanthropist Brewster Kahle, who believes that everyone in the world should have access to all the knowledge in the world. It is updated daily with ebooks, audio files, and more.

■ Free eBooks for your PDA, iPhone, or eBook reader

Matthew McClintock has given us an excellent resource for free ebooks – almost 25,000 –  in an amazing variety of formats. When you click on the drop-down box you’ll see these formats; if an asterisk (*) appears after the format, it means that you’ll be the first one to download this format of the ebook. A script will create the book in that format the first time, then store it for future visitors. Recently,  added two more formats: LIT and EPUB.

Cool feature alert: First log in to your BookWorm account, and then visit When you find a book you like, select the bottom choice from the drop-down menu that says: “Add to BookWorm”. Click “download”. In an instant, your ebook from ManyBooks will appear at the top of the list of your books on BookWorm. Nice.

■  Feedbooks

“Feedbooks is a universal e-reading platform compatible with all mobile devices where you can download thousands of free e-books, publish and share your own content, and create customized newspapers from RSS feeds and widgets.”

■  Online Books Page

OBP, edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, now lists more than 35,000 free ebooks. The site is updated often, and carries a nice stew of older ebooks (pre-1923), along with newer ebooks made available to the public domain.


Offers novels, reference works, poetry, and sets such as the excellent Harvard Classics.

■  Web Books Publishing

More than 1,000 classic books, in EPUB.

■  Internet Sacred Text Archive

The great “wisdom books” of Confucius, Buddha, Taoism, and so many more.

■  Celebration of Women Writers

Part of the Online Books Page, this sub-site deserves special mention for renewing interest in great works by great women. The site is managed by Mary Mark Ockerbloom.



■  Memoware: Free ebooks for your PDA

Offers PG classics, and many other books.

■  Bookshare

Accessible Books and Periodicals for Readers with Print Disabilities

■  World Public Library Association

Carries more than 500,000 ebooks and edocuments, and many of these are free all year round. During their World Ebook Fair (from July 4 to August 4) they offer even more free ebooks. If you need year-round access, you can join for a small yearly fee: $ 8.95 per year, or only $ 2 per year for students.

■  Munseys (Powered by David Moynihan)

More than 18,000 free ebooks in 10 formats. Munseys provides many formats of Project Gutenberg ebooks here, and also a growing collection of pulp fiction and bodice-ripping romances that I haven’t seen anywhere else. You’ll love the book covers, as well.

■  Read Easily

Created by Gustavo Vega, for reading some Project Gutenberg ebooks online. Especially useful for persons visually impaired, or just tired from too much staring at screens. The HTML is text-to-speech capable.

■  Girl Ebooks.

Laura McDonald created this site, which is filled with classic and lesser-known works by female writers.

■  WikiBooks

This is like WikiPedia, but instead of informational articles, WikiBooks creates textbooks— textbooks everyone can edit.

■  National Yiddish Book Center

Contains almost 11,000 books online.

■  Fathom Archive

A collaboration of  major universities who are making essays, lectures and articles freely available.

■  Open Library, and

■  Scan-On-Demand Project

Readers, authors and publishers should get to know the website: Here is an online catalog with basic information about more than 23 million books, and the full text of more than one million books. Their program, “Scan-on-Demand” is remarkable. Here’s how it works.

Search the Open Library website for any book that is in the public domain. If the book you are looking for is in the Boston Public Library (BPL) then there will be button on the left side of the web page, that says: “Scan this book.” … Click on the button; follow the instructions. A librarian at BPL will take your book from the stacks, and then scan it. Within 5 days, you will get an email that contains a link to the digitized copy of the book. Then you will be able to read this book online, or download a PDF copy of the book. … Bravo!

— Open Library

OL Blog:

— Scan-on-Demand: Boston Public Library

■  Europeana

A multi-lingual online collection of millions of digitized items from European museums, libraries, archives and multi-media collections.

■  World Digital Library

Their home page is a slick, must-see interface to a fine collection of world literature through the ages, in many languages.

■  Wikisource

“Wikisource is an online library of free content publications, collected and maintained by our community. We now have 131,324 texts in the English language library.”

English language:

Wikisource main page (many languages):

■  BookBoon

Download free PDF textbooks and travel guides.

B. Ebook Directories: Sites That List Free Ebook Websites

Free Literature

An outstanding collection of free ebooks, in many languages.

WikiPedia Page of Digital Library Projects

An extensive collection of links, and well organized.

Mobile Read Wiki of Free Ebooks

An impressive assortment of free ebook sites, divided mainly into sites that offer downloads, and sites where you read the ebooks online.

Digital Book Index

An outstanding list of links to more than 110,000 free ebooks from many sites.

TeleRead: Page about Free eBooks

TeleRead, the world’s finest blog about ebooks, has a page of links to free ones.

IBiblio: the public’s library and digital archive. Expertly organized for finding fiction and non-fiction.

Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts

“The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts is a collection of about 14,000 ‘classic’ public domain documents from American and English literature as well as Western philosophy.”

Internet Public Library Reading Room

Well worth a visit.

Finding Free Ebooks

Mostly novel-length fiction (all legal to download), including Horror and Romance. Webmaster and editor Christine does an excellent job of updating this site frequently.

Sony Library Finder

This web page lets you find a libraries with free ebooks that can be read on Sony ebook devices, or on your Windows/Mac computer.  If one of these libraries is your local library, and you have a library card, then you download the free (but DRM-ed) ebooks for a few weeks.

E-text Collections and Archives: University of Adelaide

A nice collection of links to ebooks and other resources that could capture your attention for many minutes, hours, or even days.

Gizmo’s Freeware 100+ Places for Free Books Online

An excellent list, updated, and responsive to reader feedback. Gizmo has another list like this for audio books.

■  Bookyards

The site claims: “Bookyards has a total of 17,001 books, 41,782 external web links, 4,197 news & blogs links, 384 videos, 32,963 Ebook links and access to hundreds of online libraries (800,000 Ebooks) for your reading pleasure.”

BookYards blog:

■  eServer

An arts and humanities e-publishing co-op based at Iowa State University, with more than 35,000 free electronic works.

Zorba’s Guide to Free Ebooks
That’s us, web this page, you are here.

C.  Ebook Search Sites and Ebook Search Engines

■  Creative Commons Search Engine

Find works, in many media forms, with a Creative Commons license.

■  PDFoo

An excellent and attractive site for finding and downloading PDF books and documents. The site contains some videos about aspects of PDF: some are admirably instructional, while others resemble infomercials.

■  TooDoc

■  Data Sheet search engine

Provides a small list of good quality results.

■  Pdf geni

“PDFGeni is a dedicated pdf search engine for PDF ebooks, sheets, forms and documents.” Not everything it finds is in the public domain.

■  pdf Search Engine

A book search engine for pdf files that reside on websites, forums, and message boards. Also available as a Firefox add-on.

■  iGoogle

Google calls iGoogle “the personalized version of Google.” From your iGoogle homepage, you can search, preview, access and save millions of ebooks. To be useful, Google would need to tweak this offering, so that we can search for what they call “full view books” only: books that are available for complete reading and free downloading.


A search engine that finds free ebooks, and compares ebook prices for the Kindle, iPhone, Nook, Sony Reader and more.

D.  Audiobooks

■  LibriVox

Free audiobooks from the public domain, in the formats .mp3 and ogg vorbis.

■  Gizmo’s Freeware: Free AudioBooks online.

This list of audiobooks is the excellent companion list to Gizmo’s list of free ebooks.

E.  Ebooks About Aspects of Writing, Publishing, Internet, and Epublishing

■  Free Ebooks for Writers (at

■  Bound By Law

A comic book about copyright and the public domain. Read it online, or download the PDF.

■  The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind

James Boyle has made his excellent book, published in December 2008, available for reading online, or for downloading as a PDF ebook.

A Short History of Ebooks by Marie Lebert.*

F.  Literature, Classic Books, and Biographies

■  ReadPrint

Read the classics online, such as Dickens, Poe, Austen, Twain, Shakespeare, and many more.

G.  Nonfiction Ebooks (including Science, Technology and Computer Ebooks)

Summer Camp Jobs USA (free LITE edition)*

A free 54-page ebook about where to find the best summer camp jobs in the United States. Published by Zorba Press.

Motion Mountain

A free textbook about physics, with 1600 pages.

Beginning PERL

How to Think Like A Computer Scientist (Python edition)

Books about computer science, engineering and programming.

National Center for Biotechnology Information’s Medical Books

■  Online Computer Books

H.  Scholarly Offerings

■  MIT Open Courseware

■  Open Humanities Press

“Open Humanities Press is an international open access publishing collective in critical and cultural theory.”

■  Open Learning Initiative (Carnegie Mellon)

■  Open Yale Courses

Visit this site, and save a bundle on Ivy League University tuition. These courses, about a wide range of topics spanning literature and the sciences, are offered in three formats: video, audio, and text (html).

■  Open Yale Courses: Lecture about Wallace Stevens

■  U.C. Berkeley Webcast Courses

I.   Children’s Literature

Project Gutenberg: Children’s Bookshelf

International Children’s Digital Library

Children’s Books Online: The Rosetta Project

J.   Pastore’s Picks: 1,001 Noteworthy Ebooks to Read Before You Diet

Like its author, this section is a work-in-progress. In the unforeseeable future, a larger list in this category will be posted to this book’s companion website.

■  Siddhartha, the novel by Hermann Hesse. An Open Source Reader

■  Farmers of Forty Centuries; Or, Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan. By F. H. King

■  Project Gutenberg: Top 100 Downloads

■  Prize-Winning Books Online

This wonderful page is interesting in two ways: for the remarkable books already digitized, and for an equal number that are not.

The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed

■  A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay

Colin Wilson says that this is one of the world’s greatest works of science fiction.

■  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

■  Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

■  Poems of John Keats

■  Daniel Deronda by George Eliot


How Many Free Ebooks Are Available?

Nobody knows.

At least 1.5 million, at the Internet Archive.