Free ebooks are all over the web. Brilliant stuff by lesser know as well as famous authors. Virtually all of the classics. Wonderful books put out for promotional purposes. There’s no shortage of free stuff to read for your ereaders. While this site tries to avoid helping anyone sourcing pirated books (those are all over too), there are plenty of places we will list here to give you more selection than you will possibly have time for.
Let’s start with the big guy, named after the inventor of the printing press himself. The Gutenberg Project was the brainchild of Michael Hart, and is today the largest repository of freely available books online. In their own words:
Project Gutenberg began in 1971 when Michael Hart was given an operator’s account with $100,000,000 of computer time in it by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois.
This was totally serendipitous, as it turned out that two of a four operator crew happened to be the best friend of Michael’s and the best friend of his brother. Michael just happened “to be at the right place at the right time” at the time there was more computer time than people knew what to do with, and those operators were encouraged to do whatever they wanted with that fortune in “spare time” in the hopes they would learn more for their job proficiency.
At any rate, Michael decided there was nothing he could do, in the way of “normal computing,” that would repay the huge value of the computer time he had been given … so he had to create $100,000,000 worth of value in some other manner. An hour and 47 minutes later, he announced that the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but would be the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries.
The collection at Gutenberg is enough to give anyone a free education in the classics, whether your thing is Neitzsche, Shakespeare, Edgar Rice Burroughs or William Burroughs. Philosophy, fiction, fantasy or science – it’s all here. An example of the wonders to be found are the illustrated versions of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series. The picture are wonderful, and will give you a whole new perspective on the story – free of Judy Garland imagery.
As of June 2011, Project Gutenberg claimed over 36,000 items in its collection, with an average of over fifty new e-books being added each week. Though these are mainly Western literature, there is philosophy, cookbooks, reference works, gardening guides and issues of periodicals. Project Gutenberg collection also has a few non-text items such as audio files and music notation files.
Whenever possible, Gutenberg releases are available in plain text, mainly using US-ASCII character encoding but frequently extended to ISO-8859-1. Besides being copyright-free, the requirement for a Latin (character set) text version of the release has been a criterion of Michael Hart’s since the founding of Project Gutenberg, as he believes this is the format most likely to be readable in the extended future. The text is wrapped at 65-70 characters and paragraphs are separated by a double-line break. This makes the release available to anybody with an ereader, but it is a bit bland in appearance.
Other formats are released as well when submitted by volunteers. The most common non-ASCII format is HTML, which allows markup and illustrations to be included.
In 2009 the Project Gutenberg catalog began offering auto-generated alternate file formats, including EPUB and plucker.
Manybooks.net is a very reliable free ebook source, with some well written reviews and suggestions across all genres. Unlike many dubious sites, the books here are all legally free. There is no pirated material.