If you’re studying a subject that involves reading books which were published over 70 years or so ago, you might want to search for them on Project Gutenberg. This is an online repository of books that are out of copyright, and it holds a huge number of very varied works:
There are three portions of the Project Gutenberg Library, basically described as:
- Light Literature; such as Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, Peter Pan, Aesop’s Fables, etc.
- Heavy Literature; such as the Bible or other religious documents, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, etc.
- References; such as Roget’s Thesaurus, almanacs, and a set of encyclopedia, dictionaries, etc.
Who’s Project Gutenberg for?
Historians could find a huge amount of valuable primary sources there, particularly for any sort of social history (I’ve just been browsing through The Child’s Day by Woods Hutchinson, a fascinating insight into the life and times in 1912.)
Literature students, of course, are well catered for. Even if, like most students, you prefer to read novels in paper form than on a screen, ebooks are invaluable when you want to search for a particular quote – no more flipping through pages at random!
If you’re studying social sciences (particularly politics or philosophy), being able to access the works by great thinkers of the past is hugely useful.
And Project Gutenberg could be fun for general interest: I discovered the third volume of the Treasure Seekers series by E. Nesbit (children’s books from the Victorian era), New Treasure Seekers, or, The Bastable Children In Search Of a Fortune a couple of years ago. I’ve read The Treasure Seekers and The Would-be-Goods a couple of times, so was delighted to have a chance to read this lesser-known third volume (though I probably should have been writing an essay at the time…)
Unlike the online resources I mentioned a few days ago, Project Gutenberg is completely free for anyone to access – no login required.
How to find ebooks using Project Gutenberg
To get an idea of the range that Project Gutenberg covers, why not start by looking at their Top 100 list? This tells you the ebooks which have been downloaded most frequently on the previous day. At the time of writing, there’s an amazing breadth of subject matter represented – just look at the different titles here:
- The Outline of Science, Vol. 1 (of 4) by J. Arthur Thomson (679)
- Manners, Customs, and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period by P. L. Jacob (518)
- Illustrated History of Furniture by Frederick Litchfield (350)
- Our Day by William Ambrose Spicer (288)
- History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary Ritter Beard (261)
- Searchlights on Health by B. G. Jefferis and J. L. Nichols (242)
- The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser in Plain English by Ray Vaughn Pierce (225)
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (222)
- The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed (204)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (195)
Health warning: The titles of some of these books are so fascinating that you may not want to browse the Top 100 list until you have a few hours to spare…
Searching for a specific author or book is very straightforward: just type the author name or word(s) from the title into the search box on the top left of the page.
There’s also an advanced search where, among other things, you can search the full text of books. This could be extremely handy if you know a great quote but have no idea where it came from or who said it.
Reading ebooks on Project Gutenberg
Once you’ve clicked through on the title of a book, you’ll be presented with a page listing the details of the book and of when it was added to Project Gutenberg. At the bottom of this page, you’ll find a list of different ways to download or read the book itself. These are:
- Plucker – a version compatiable with software for a smart phone or PDA
- HTML: none – normal web page which just displays in your browser (try “main site” first, and the mirrors if the main site is too busy)
- HTML: zip – a zipped version of the HTML file which you download onto your computer (again, try “main site” first)
- Plain text: Both versions operate the same as the HTML, but have no images or formatting of text. For general reading purposes, you probably don’t want to use this version.
Over to you
Try looking up some books using the search, or browse through some of the top 100 – there’s an amazing amount of free information in Project Gutenberg (and they’re adding new books all the time).
Let us know about any real gems you find in the archives!