“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” – Jane Smiley
My Favorite Free Book Sites
- gutenberg.org This is my top favorite. I have read hundreds if not thousands of classics by the best authors on this site. They have now started a new service inviting contemporary authors to publish books on their site and make it available for free.
- https://www.forgottenbooks.com/en: This London based bookstore has AMAZING online and downloadable books. They have a free book of the day feature from which I have found some great gems (as you can probably figure out, I love old books!).
- bookbub.com/ebook-deals/free-ebooks A special section for free ebooks on bookbub.com
- openculture.com/free_ebooks Tonnes of free ebooks on openculture.com. This site is also a treasure chest of free movies and audio recordings you would not easily find elsewhere
- deals.manybooks.netA great selection of free and discounted ebooks.
- free-ebooks.net This site allows you to download five books per month in PDF format. You can however, read online any number of books you want. If you like you can pay a very small one time fee and the monthly limit gets waived!
- pearltrees.com I found some free books on this site though I had a hard time navigating.
- hathitrust.org HathiTrust is a not-for-profit collaborative of academic and research libraries. They contain books related to scholarly research and training.
- readcentral.com Poems and old classics.
- kobo.com/ca/en/p/free-ebooks Kobo has a separate section for free books. You can also find some good deals.
- bookboon.com This site is focused on free academic books. As the site says, it contains “free textbooks written by professors from the world’s top universities.” If you are interested then for a monthly fee, they also provide “a library of bite-sized business eBooks on soft skills and personal development by industry-leading experts through just one subscription.”
- Amazon has a great site for free books. Explore the “Top 100 Free” tab in their “Best Sellers in Kindle eBooks” section. Amazon has several more options for book lovers. Google for ‘Amazon First Reads – Free Books For Prime Members, ‘Kindle Owners Lending Library’ to find great deals. booklending.com, lendle.me are two sites where people could lend each other their Kindle books.
- Wattpad.com “The world’s most-loved social storytelling platform” is another destination for book lovers looking for free books. On Wattpad.com authors share the books they’ve written, many of which are unpublished works.
- The_Wikipedia_Library of Free_resources
Free Books Sites I Did Not Know Existed
- Storynory Audio stories for kids
- swoonreads.com Free unpublished books.
- sacred-texts.com Religion, mythology and spirituality
- This site has a separate section for free books. baen.com
- dailylit.com You need to register and provide them your email address and then they will send you portions of a free book periodically. As the site says: “Many of our books are in the public domain and others are available for free under Creative Commons licenses. There are also some books still under copyright that are offered for free on our site by special arrangement with the publisher. The rest of our books aren’t free because writers need to eat, too.”
- en.wikibooks.org A community driven library of open source educational text-books that anyone can contribute to.
- read.gov/books/ A small selection of books are free in the Library of Congress.
- marxists.org/archive/ Whether or not you are a fan of marxism, this archive contains a lot of world class authors such as Leo Tolstoy’s works.
- standardebooks.org/about public domain high quality works
Book Sites You May Not Have Heard Of
- Folio Folio provides curation of books to make selection easy. They say on their website, “A new kind of bookstore. We’ll do the dirty work & give you a rec in under a minute –– we promise you’ll love our suggestions.” TechCrunch highlights the passion for books that the bookshop owner Clare has: “24-year-old Clare Carroll’s video background speaks for itself as she calls in from her NYC apartment, which doubles as a stock room for hundreds of books she sells online.”
- thestorygraph.com – Is this the next Goodreads?” Their motto is, “We’ll help you track your reading and choose your next book based on your mood and your favorite topics and themes.”
- libro.fm Their motto is “Same audiobooks. Different story”
- bookshop.org Their motto is “Support Local Bookstores. Shop Online with Bookshop.”
- scribd.com The books and magazines are not free though they do offer a 30 day free trial.
- audio books libro.fm
- Helps you find local book stores: indiebound.org
- One free book every month: rivetedlit.com
- radishfiction.com A chance to read some free books if you are willing to wait.
- smashwords.com A platform for indie authors. Some books are free.
- tor.com Sci-fi and fantasy.
- ereadernewstoday.com Book promotion service which has a lot of cool deals and some free books.
- If you have a lot of time on your hands consider joining in with the crowd to create your own story at fanfiction.net
- Another way to get free books is to visit book review sites. You can also consider reviewing books on Netgalley which is a platform where you can request ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to review before their publication date.
- I have found some books from Craiglist, Kijiji and from yard sales.
- paperbackswap.com takes the idea of book swaps online. Swap your books with other people.
Google Books & Google Search
- If you search for ‘free books’ in Google Play it will surface all the free books: play.google.com/store/books
- Using Google’s search engine is a great way to find and download free books.I find it very effective to use power search operators such as “filetype” in Google. Here’s an example of using a power search operator to quickly filter books in PDF format: Type “dickens filetype:pdf” in Google search and you will see only those search results which contain downloadable PDF files.
- A great service from Google is the Google Books project. Searching for a book brings up a page in Google with a preview window and links to where you can purchase the book (e.g. Amazon) or borrow it. However there is more to Google Books than what appears at first glance. Google Books (previously by its code-name Project Ocean) is a service from Google that searches the books and magazines that Google has scanned and converted to text using optical character recognition (OCR). According to Wikipedia, in response to search queries, Google Books allows users to view full pages from books in which the search terms appear if the book is out of copyright or if the copyright owner has given permission. If Google believes the book is still under copyright, a user sees “snippets” of text around the queried search terms. All instances of the search terms in the book text appear with a yellow highlight. In addition to procuring books from libraries, Google also obtains books from its publisher partners, through the “Partner Program” – designed to help publishers and authors promote their books. If you are an author or publisher, you would find this link useful: Link to list books on Google Play.
Libraries vs Bookshops: Buy or Borrow?
I didn’t grow up loving libraries simply because the libraries have always seemed to be too regulated for my taste. Even recently I remember sitting in my community library and at closing time, a harsh schoolmarmish voice started admonishing everyone over the loudspeaker to get up and leave.
My curiosity for all places connected with books once took me to the dark and dingy library in my grandfather’s hometown. Later, when I mentioned the library to him, my grandfather remarked: “It’s not a library. It’s a graveyard for books.”
There is another reason why I buy books. I love the experience of reading a book at my leisure – sometimes in half a day, sometimes over a period of months and years. Often I go back to the portions of the books that I had enjoyed reading the first time, and read them over and over again. The need to follow a strict time-bound regime of borrowing and returning somehow destroys my pleasure of reading. I do visit the library however. Outside their front doors, most libraries have a collection of books marked for sale. These are the books that the libraries want to dispose off and I have snagged some great gems for pennies and cents.
There are many intelligent reasons for buying vs borrowing. For example, borrowing is cheap (free) while buying lets you have the books for future reference (e.g. books such as financial planning, spiritual books). However in this post I only deal with affairs of the heart not mind. I buy because I love books.
The most important reason why I buy books instead of borrowing is simply because I love books. As Bryan Bischof, hobbyist extraordinaire, writes in Quora, “Sorry? What’s that you say? Books cost money? So do lunches with friends, dates with lovers, and adventures with companions.”
Borrow Free Books from Libraries
Not withstanding my personal preference for buying instead of borrowing, let’s examine libraries as a way to get your hands on free books. Today most of the public libraries (at least in US, Canada and in Europe) allow you to borrow books online with your library card and a pin number. Visit your local library on your computer and you will see the details on how to subscribe to their online services. You can also download the Libby app which is supported by most of the libraries today to borrow books. Overdrive.com (the makers of Libby app) makes it easy to browse available books. When you click on a book, the site brings up a choice of local libraries and you can then use your library card to access the book. There are other similar services such as Hoopla which allow you to easily ‘download’ books from your local library (assuming your local library has partnership with Hoopla; most libraries do).
The openlibrary.org is another place to borrow free books online. They are easy to borrow from, returns happen automatically at the end of the borrowing period. I didn’t find their search to be great and most of the books that I wanted (e.g. books by P. G. Wodehouse) were not available despite the fact that they have over 1 million books listed.
Explore The World Library for books you can borrow: worldlibrary.org
International Digital Children’s Library en.childrenslibrary.org
Memories: Growing up & Loving Books
I still remember struggling to read the newspaper. It was a bit like learning to ride the bike. I was so excited and wanted to be able to read as easily as my parents did.
When I was a kid, at the beginning of each a new school year, I would go with my mother to the school stationary shop, and purchase the supplies for the new class I was going to. Among them, I loved most the books for history and language courses which were packed with fascinating stories. I devoured them hungrily and finished them all off even before the classes started!
Growing up, I remember discovering my father’s bookshelf full of Reader’s Digest and many other classics. My father was a voracious reader and his mini-library consisted of books across a very wide genre. I especially loved the Reader’s Digest Condensed Editions, which had extracts from the bestsellers. I realize now however, that the Condensed Editions (later called Select Editions) are not to everyone’s liking. As one reviewer noted, these were notorious for “simplifying’ bestsellers by cutting out style, passages that didn’t drive the plot and anything faintly racy…”.
My father also used to take my brother and me to the bookstore in our hometown and allowed us to spend a lot of money on books. He didn’t police what I read and I could choose everthing from Enid Blyton to Superman comics as we wished. It was so touching that when I once went back to the bookstore after nearly 40 years, the shopkeeper instantly recognized me.
When I got my first job more than twenty years back, we were allowed to take an advance on our salary, after one week of joining. With that money and I bought a book and I was so happy. I was now earning a good salary and I could walk in to a book store and really indulge myself! I have carried that book with me everyone and it is still on my bookshelf.
I have spent countless happy hours in shops selling old books. I have found so many wonderful treasures in the Daryaganj Sunday Book Market in Delhi, the “Half Price Books” shop in Austin, and the cheap books for sale in our local libraries. After I read them I would pack them in large suitcases and bags and bring them for my father to read.
I don’t know where my father got his love of books and stories. His father and mother were not very highly educated and certainly didn’t have money to spend on anything except the basics of life. My father himself was an avid mathematician and wasn’t a passionate student of literature. But he loved to read. And he loved books. Books and cups of chai were his two great sustenances. Now my father has passed away but he has left me so many fond memories of books that we shared and had enjoyed reading.
In Parting… Happy Reading!
The idea for curating a list of free book sites in this post came to me as I have, believe it or not, read up pretty much everything that Gutenberg.org has to offer (related to what I am interested in). I then thought that sharing this convenient checklist of free book resources would help you when you are in need for a book to dive in and disappear from this world for a few hours.
There are many ways to get books for free. When I was a kid we did not have free books sites. Public libraries in my town did not exist. We read from the private mini-libraries of our parents and exchanged books among ourselves.
If you love books then consider starting a book blog. You will get free books from authors to review. Here’s a guide to launching a great blog with minimal resources: https://www.zavesti.com/how-to-start-a-blog-the-complete-step-by-step-toolkit-for-beginner-bloggers/
Books are a doorways to other worlds. If you find the right book, you will come back recharged and refreshed after reading it. Enjoy!
- Reader’s Digest Condensed Books: ‘as difficult to dispose of as bins of radioactive waste’: https://nathanhobby.com/2012/03/11/readers-digest-condensed-books-as-difficult-to-dispose-of-as-bins-of-radioactive-waste/
- Why I Never Go to the Library: https://wealthpilgrim.com/why-i-never-set-foot-in-libraries/
- “There’s something magical about the library. You can literally have all the books you can read. And some libraries are even experimenting with eradicating late fees!”: https://medium.com/the-partnered-pen/heres-what-happened-when-we-stopped-going-to-the-library-97fa36df8edd
- Half Price Books: https://hpb.com/
- myPustak: Cheap, free and great books in India: https://www.mypustak.com/
- The Sunday Daryaganj Book Market: https://daryaganjsundaybookmarket.business.site/
- How my father taught me to love books: https://medium.com/illuminations-mirror/how-my-father-taught-me-to-love-books-684780dd2e1c
- How to borrow and read books from your library: https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-borrow-and-read-ebooks-from-your-library
- Why buy books instead of borrowing: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-buy-books-when-they-can-borrow-almost-any-book-from-the-library-and-not-worry-about-storing-them-at-home/answer/Bryan-Bischof
- Libby app: https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/