What do Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, Zane Grey, and Edgar Allan Poe all have in common? They’re all authors who have some or most of their output in the public domain. What that means is that these works were published before 1925 and are no longer under U.S. copyright protection. Readers don’t have to personally subscribe to any e-book service or use the public library’s subscription in order to enjoy these novels for free on an electronic device.
In a climate of heavy e-book use while students are doing online school and workers are home with extra leisure time, there are thousands of timeless classics that can be downloaded immediately from public websites with no waiting in line because of limited numbers of e-copies. Online sources of these free downloadable e-books include Project Gutenberg, Digital Public Library of America, the Internet Archive and Manybooks.net. These internet sites are user-friendly portals to search for free e-content by either author, title or sometimes genre.
The downloadable files found at these sites are a mix of adult classics, beloved children’s books, mysteries, adventure tales, romance, humor, fairy tales, Utopian and fantastic novels, plays, and early science fiction. In 2019, a number of titles came into the public domain including some early works by mystery greats like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, adventure novels such as “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and humorous works such as the Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse.
As recently as January, works with 1924 publication dates became available in e-format for free. They include the classic play “Desire Under the Elms” by Eugene O’Neill, the W.E.B. DuBois African-American work ”Gift of Black Folk” and children’s author A.A. Milne’s book of poetry “When We Were Very Young” that first introduced the lovable Winnie-the-Pooh character to readers.
Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne of Green Gables novels by L. M. Montgomery, “Oz” novels by L. Frank Baum and the body of works of Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, and Jack London are consistently among the most popular titles at many of these portal sites.
Other titles with enduring popularity include classics of the horror genre such as “Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, and Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”, a chilling plague tale that may resonate with anyone under quarantine for communicable disease. Science fiction is one of the more recent genres to develop, but some luminaries with free content include Edward Bellamy, H.P. Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, and a huge body of work by Jules Verne.
Novelists Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters dominate the category of free romance novels, but some other suggestions include “Cleopatra” by H. Rider Haggard, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, several D.H. Lawrence novels, and “To Have and to Hold”, an historical romance by Mary Johnston set in colonial Jamestown.
At more than 61,000 title, Project Gutenberg is a great place to start. See http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/bookshelf/13 for their most popular title. Whatever your reading tastes, there’s likely a book to suit.
By Lisa Kobrin, Reference Librarian