About two months ago, I wrote an article entitled 15 Free Kindle Books to Inspire You to Great Things. Here’s the scoop, from that original article:
The Kindle is an absolute treasure trove of great free and inexpensive books – if you know where to look. Unfortunately, many of the true highlights that I’ve found for free on the Kindle aren’t anywhere near the bestseller list.
Here is a list of 15 of my favorite books for the Kindle, ones that have inspired me and made me think over the years. The material here will leave you entertained, inspired, and ready to conquer challenges in your life. These books will make you think about the deep questions in your life and figure out new paths forward for yourself.
These books will change your life if you’re willing to start reading.
But I don’t have a Kindle! If you have a smartphone or a computer, you don’t need one. Just download the free Kindle app for almost every platform under the sun – PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. You can even read Kindle books on the web if you so choose.
The best part? Your bookmark in the various Kindle books you’re reading synchronize back and forth between various devices. I have a Kindle, but sometimes I read on my phone and occasionally on my computer. It all syncs effortlessly!
The response to this article was fun, to say the least. A number of people wrote in asking for more recommendations for free books, and many more wrote in with suggestions of their own.
Based on that response, I started looking through my own Kindle history and dug out a second set of great free books that are well worth your time. Even if only one or two of these are of interest to you, you’ll still get many hours of entertainment, thought, and pleasure from these titles.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson purchased an enormous tract of land from the French, known as the Louisiana Purchase. This land more than doubled the land mass of the United States, but this land was largely unexplored in any organized fashion, with mostly just rumors and stories about what might be found out there. Jefferson then commissioned a small group of volunteers from the Army led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore and map this uncharted land, both to get an idea of what might be found in the west and to figure out if there was a “Northwest Passage” that might serve as a water-based route to the Pacific Ocean across North America.
This book consists of Lewis and Clark’s journals from that expedition and it provides perhaps the most exciting real life adventure that I’ve ever read. It’s not hard to get lost in some of the stories that the men tell as they see countless things that no European eyes had ever seen and recorded.
In particular, their notes on some of the American Indian tribes that they encountered are just fascinating. You can’t help but envision what it was like to discover completely new civilizations and ways of life. It’s also interesting to see their reactions to various things, as they interpreted some things nearly with awe while interpreting other things as being savage.
It reads like a great adventure novel full of discovery, but the best part is that it’s a true story, one that sits at a crucial point in American history.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is one of our nation’s founding fathers, famous for his work as a printer and a scientist as well as a statesman. This is his autobiography that was sadly incomplete at the time of his death, as this book ends with events that were leading up to the American revolution.
If you want a strong taste of what life was like for an intellectually curious individual in colonial America, this book is fantastic. Franklin’s down to earth voice and willingness to criticize himself makes this whole thing a fascinating and inspiring read.
This book, perhaps more than any other, makes me wish that Franklin had been given the additional time on this earth to complete it by covering the American revolution from his perspective. The events of his life up to that point are fascinating, but that would have been an amazing cherry on top.
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Silas Marner is a truly great story. On the surface, it’s a pretty simple story of the downfall and eventual redemption of a weaver, but once you start reading it, the book digs into many aspects of society and morality in various ways without detracting from the story, which is a pretty tough balance.
What is society’s responsibility toward orphans? Does morality in society come from the church or come from the hearts of individual people? What value do societal customs and traditions have? What happens to a community when a large business moves in and unseats everyone? The book addresses all of these things and more, but does it so smoothly within the context of the story that you often barely notice it. That’s the sign of a great novel.
I’m truly surprised we haven’t seen a modern retelling of Silas Marner along the lines of some of the modern retakes of works like The Great Gatsby or Romeo and Juliet. It seems like a perfect candidate for it.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
This is one of the fundamental books of political theory, and perhaps one of the most infamous as well. Machiavelli’s book essentially argues that leaders should not worry about the morality of their actions as long as those actions lead to a clear goal, largely because success in that goal will overshadow the immorality of some of the actions needed to get there. In other words, the value of the goal is more important than the value of the steps needed to get there.
For me, this book was a powerful eye opener when I was first beginning to understand politics and business. The Prince provides an incredibly powerful explanation of why (and, to some extent, how) politicians and businesspeople will make decisions that seem immoral and how those immoral choices lead to a larger goal.
Does this philosophy provide an excuse for leaders to act in immoral ways? That’s an interesting question, but there is no doubt that many leaders follow the ideas in this book and people are well-served by understanding them and knowing how they operate.
The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
The core idea (at least as I understand it) of this book is simple: it is impossible to understand much of the world with just pure reasoning and people thus use experience and intuition (and other substitutes) to be able to understand the world.
Within that simple idea, however, is a great deal of very deep thinking and insight about the world around us, how it operates, and how we operate within it. It touches upon how we use reasoning to figure out problems and how that reasoning itself often relies upon personal experiences, and from there goes in a number of interesting directions.
It’s a challenging read, to be sure, but it can be incredibly powerful. When I first read it twenty or so years ago, it helped me recognize that much of what I viewed as reasoning actually rested on a lot of experience in life and that analyzing my own experiences was perhaps the best way to lift up what I saw as “reasoning.” It changed how I looked at my life and how I studied and prepared for life’s challenges.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Faith and doubt, atheists and monks, murder and fratricide, parents and children… this book is a family story almost unparalleled in terms of the richness of the characters, the variety of moral stances of the characters, and the deepness of the relationships between them.
Taken all together, The Brothers Karamazov is an incredibly epic story of a family torn apart by societal change and differing beliefs.
What makes Karamazov even greater is how Dostoyevsky weaves so much social commentary through all of it. Rather than preaching for pages, he relates those ideas through the actions and conversations of the characters, often using an All in the Family-esque method of having family members who deeply disagree with one another (but with higher stakes involved). It ends up being a brilliant, wonderful novel that you won’t soon forget.
The Analects by Confucius
The Analects are a collection of sayings and thoughts attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius and some of his contemporaries. The book’s entire point is that a strong society is built on how the people within that society treat each other, particularly with regard to their families and their community.
The main focus of much of the Analects is on the concept of ren which is the good feeling that people get when they do something purely altruistic. When you do something for someone else, you naturally feel good about it, and Confucius argues that such a feeling is a natural guide for right behavior.
Much of The Analects, then, boils down to how to cultivate ren often in your life and that mostly comes from building strong relationships with people around you and building a strong community through helping others.
It’s a fascinating book and one that really provides some deep insight into the modern dissatisfaction that many people feel when their lives are largely without that good feeling that comes from altruism and community building.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is the prototypical “gothic” love story, with a heavy focus on characters with strange morals and customs and a hint of the supernatural throughout, along with some scenes of mental and physical cruelty. The recent trend toward such stories in the form of books like Twilight turn out to, in many ways, be borrowed concepts from this book.
The book focuses on the relationship between Heathcliff, an orphaned child who scrabbles his way into what one might call middle class society, and Catherine, the woman that he is obsessed with to the point of destroying her marriage to another man and the consequences that has for all of the other people in their lives. There are some significant supernatural elements, particularly at the beginning and near the end, that could be argued to be projections of people’s minds as well.
For me, this book stands out due to its setting, which is simultaneously dreary and quite alive. These characters inhabit a dark and dreary place in which the brightness of the spirit of some of the characters shines like a candle in the darkness.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina is the story of an affair between a married woman and a single man and how it affects the lives of everyone involved and how the overall community responds to it. It may seem like a simple plot, but more than any novel I’ve ever read about human relationships, Anna Karenina exposes the affair as being much like a pebble tossed into a still pond, with the ripples stretching ever further outward.
Like any great novel, you find yourself at various points sympathizing with and being frustrated by the main characters. Why? Because they’re intensely human, something that Tolstoy is very good at doing. Human beings are a mix of good and bad traits, and it’s that mix that makes characters interesting. Tolstoy does that perfectly, starting with the couple at the center of it all.
Anna Karenina is a novel that stuck in my mind for years after I read it, which is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to a novel.
The Art of War by Sun-Tzu
The Art of War is often lauded as a business book or a book to guide people’s professional relationships, which is an interesting take on an ancient work on warfare.
The book is interesting because it’s primarily about how to wage war without actually getting involved in battles. It’s all about positioning and maximizing the value of your position so you can appear to have the most value or the most threat when negotiating a solution.
Obviously, that kind of perspective has a ton of application when it comes to modern business relationships and negotiation. While The Art of War can be wordy at times and is really couched in the language of warfare, it does include some great thoughts on how to negotiate and how to make your personal value appear as high as possible.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This is the prototypical science fiction novel, as it focuses on the work of a scientist to create artificial life and the horror of that creation. It melds together elements of science fiction and horror to create something that has been duplicated many times since, but this novel has a level of originality that is incomparable.
We’re all familiar with the basic structure of the story – a scientist scavenges body parts, assembles a humanlike form, and brings that form to life to the horror of the town in which he lives and the misery, in many ways, of the now-living being. The story is familiar because it’s been borrowed and remixed over and over again, so why read this one?
This original stands out because of the characters. This book really captures the madness of the doctor, the horrible existence of the creation, and the disgust and anger of other members of society. More than anything, though, the creature is the one that brings about sympathy in me as his horrible, lonely, rejected existence is so painful and it was foisted on him without choice. Read her book and you’ll feel that incredible sympathy, too.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
The Wealth of Nations is one of the most powerful books ever written on economics. It collects together countless observations about the industrial revolution and develops some very interesting theories about those observations on things as diverse as the division of labor, the perspective that workers are essentially “assets,” the growth of investments and long-term economic growth, and how all of these things affect states and governments.
Almost every page of this book contains something well worth thinking deeply about, and although the book was obviously written two centuries ago, most of the ideas presented in this book have strong echoes in modern life. We’re still struggling with these things – the role and value of the worker in a business, the relationship between the economy and the state, and so on.
It’s a challenging read, but it’s a really worthwhile one if you want to gain a greater grasp on how the world works.
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Unlike many of the novels listed here, Sister Carrie is a pretty uplifting novel about a woman who leaves a small town to go to a large city to find her fortune and eventually does after some trials and tribulations.
This book stands out from the pack because of how real the characters are. They make a lot of romantic and personal choices that would seem completely normal today and the consequences of those actions feel far more realistic than they do in other novels. The main character, Carrie, feels like a modern woman in a lot of ways, though this novel is from the start of the 1900s.
How does it feel modern? Many novelists of Dreiser’s time liked to turn characters into idealized people or despicable villains that either showed off total moral virtue or else were dastardly in almost every way. Carrie manages to be immoral by the standards of the time in many ways, but is not viewed as dastardly. She’s viewed as human, and that’s what makes everything work so well.
A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
This book is probably as close to a modern romance as appears on this list. The book focuses on Lucy, an English woman traveling in Italy who meets an eccentric family and eventually begins to fall in love with their son.
Lucy is a wonderful character, developing a headstrong independence during the era when women’s suffrage was really taking root. Her strong views and growing sense of self-determination and independence make the book feel almost as if it is watching a modern woman be born into Edwardian England.
I read this during a period in my life when I was devouring classic novels and although the subject matter isn’t something I typically enjoy, Lucy has stuck with me over the years, which is a sure sign of a good book.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The Jungle tells the story of an immigrant family made to work under horrific conditions in a meat packing plant, the details of which became a scandal at the time and led to some serious scrutiny of the meat packing industry. It can still turn your stomach today.
Yet, if this were just a stomach-turner, I wouldn’t be talking about it here. It’s the story of the immigrant family that sticks with you. Most of us are the descendants of immigrants and it’s often hard to remember the challenges they went through due to adapting to a new culture, learning a new language, and becoming a part of a new community all at once.
This is a heroic tale of immigrants with a brutal backdrop. Those elements bundled together make this book incredibly memorable.
Hopefully, this list has helped you find some great free reading to take on during the coming months. Enjoy!