A few years ago, I received a Kindle as a gift from my wife. It’s a pretty nifty little device, perfectly designed for reading the text of books.
The problem is that in order to read a lot of books, you have to buy them from the Kindle bookstore. Yes, there are other options out there – you can check out some e-books from your local library, for example – but the selection is often really limited.
Naturally, my frugal side wanted to find ways to really extract value from my Kindle. I wanted to find free books worth reading – and, it turns out, there are a lot of free books out there.
Many of them are trash.
However, there are a lot of diamonds mixed in with all of that charcoal. For example, virtually every work first published before 1920 is considered to be in the public domain and thus it’s pretty easy to find a free electronic version of almost every well-known book from that timeframe.
There are also writers who distribute some of their works for free, either for philosophical reasons or in the hopes that it will attract new followers to the other things they’re engaged in (public speaking, teaching, other books, etc.).
Over the past few years, I’ve been digging through a lot of these resources and cataloguing the books I’ve enjoyed. Here’s a list of 28 of them. Why 28? As I made the list, I kept the ones I really enjoyed and thought about and didn’t include the rest. Now seems like a perfectly good time to share this list.
For the most part, I’ve simply linked to the Kindle-compatible version of the book. You can download a free program for your PC to easily read Kindle books on your screen, so you don’t actually need an e-reader to enjoy these. If you use another device for reading, like Sony’s e-reader or the Nook from Barnes and Noble, a quick Google search will lead you to the resources you need.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
This is often known as a romance novel, but it’s actually a revenge story. The book tells the story of Heathcliff, a rather strange child who is adopted by a family and is later made to be their servant. Eventually, he runs away after being jilted by a lover, and when he returns, he’s obtained wealth and refinement, but also has a burning desire to destroy both of the families he believes has done wrong by him.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
This book tells the tale of Pip, an orphaned child who climbs up and down the social ladder of Georgian England. There are a lot of wonderful things going on here: family loyalty, coming of age, a few nice action scenes, and some really memorable characters (of which every Dickens novel has a few).
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
This is a legal drama, believe it or not, that basically exposes how painfully the wheels of justice can turn and how some court cases can drastically affect the lives of many. It does delve a bit into specifics of how the law worked at the time in England, but get past that and you have an interesting novel with a lot of subplots that are all tied together by a painful and dramatic trial.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau spent two years living in a self-made cabin on Walden Pond and during that time, he took down his thoughts on the value of solitude and self-reliance. This is a wonderfully thought-provoking book on what it means to be an independent and self-reliant person, mixed in with some great tales of independence and nature.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
This is just a really wonderful action story, with double crosses, fights, romance, and humor. There have been countless film adaptations of this and the various sequels to the story, and no wonder – it’s just a really fun adventure.
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
I have never read a better story about a person growing, changing, maturing, and developing a strong sense of right and wrong than this one. The slow change in Jean Valjean from the beginning to the end of this book, along with his interactions of people of various moralities, is simply wonderful to read. There are about a dozen deeply memorable characters in this novel who will stick with you for a long time.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
This is a horror story, but also a very timely commentary on the public face that people put out there while they sometimes hide darker things. Wilde can’t write a novel without incorporating some humor, but there is a lot of thoughtful darkness in this novel.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
This tells the tale of Siddhartha, a man who simply wants to understand how life works. He starts off being an ascetic in that he gives up worldly possessions, but eventually he moves on from there through various stages and eventually reaches some powerful conclusions about life.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
In 2007, Time declared this to be the greatest novel ever written. Oprah picked it for her book club. Read it. You will be glad that you did.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
This is, hands down, my favorite collection of poetry. It includes my single favorite poem and countless other great poems, including the amazing I Sing the Body Electric. If you read a book of poetry in your life, make it this one.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
This is an amazing story about an individual driven to madness by the darkness of the Congo wilderness and the darkness of the reality of European colonialism of Africa. Marlow’s discovery of Kurtz after a long ride up the river is just chilling. The book was re-made into the powerful film Apocalypse Now.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
As my wife once said, “They don’t write romance novels this well any more.” While there’s a romance going on, the book also looks at upbringing, morality, education, gender, and marriage in upper middle class England in the early 19th century. Austen had great observations and could also create some very strong characters.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A man survives for twenty eight years on a tropical island, surviving cannibals and attacks by mutineers while also building some semblance of a life for himself. It’s a powerful novel of self-reliance and adventure.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
There’s a wonderful adventure story here, but what makes Huck Finn stand out is the stark pictures of prejudices and education at the time is how Huck Finn largely ignores society’s ideas of right and wrong to do what he thinks is the right thing. He does this over and over again, which causes him endless problems with polite society.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
This is a wonderful telling of the story of a truly amazing life. Not only is it a great record of an absolutely vital early American, it’s also quite fun to read. Franklin is one of those people with such a varied and impressive life that you can’t help but be amazed with all of the things he achieved.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
This is a harrowing story about workers in a meat-packing plant around the turn of the twentieth century. The descriptions of the work that they do will really shock you and make you want to investigate where your food comes from. The novel ended up having an enormous impact on the food industry in the early twentieth century.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this novel. It’s just a lot of fun. What happens if you take a very intelligent modern man and drop him into King Arthur’s world? That’s the premise here, and Twain tells it with humor and thoughtfulness.
The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
What sort of evil things might you do if you were invisible? And what does that say about the person that you actually are? Those are the real questions asked in this great science fiction novel.
The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
This is somewhat a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but this one is better and you don’t really need to have read the first novel to enjoy it. Several people become shipwrecked on a strange island where things don’t always happen as you might expect them to.
From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, as it is a very entertaining fictionalization of what people in the late 19th century believed that travel to the moon would actually be like. Mostly, this novel is a “space race” of sorts, with an individual overcoming all kinds of obstacles to develop and build a device to launch a man to the moon. The sequel Around the Moon is also entertaining, but more fanciful.
The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
What’s the line between science fiction and horror? This novel rides that fine line. Doctor Moreau lives on a strange island where he creates sentient beings by combining the parts of various animals. The novel dwells quite a lot on the issues of pain in the name of progress and animal cruelty, while telling a strong story.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
I found Vanity Fair to be incredibly funny. It makes fun of society as a whole, particularly the hypocrisy of people and how they’ll willingly step on someone’s neck to reach a few inches higher. It ends up with an intriguing murder mystery, one that I used to frequently argue about with an old friend.
Roughing It by Mark Twain
On a rather different note, Roughing It is Mark Twain’s memoirs of his years spent in the wild West. Twain’s humor is evident here, but it’s also a great adventure story that reveals quite a lot about the nature of the old West.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
If you’re interested in knights, chivalry, and Robin Hood, you’ll enjoy Ivanhoe. It’s as simple as that. It’s a very fun adventure story, vibrant and yet realistic, though the language is just a touch dated in places.
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
This is a very powerful look at what morality is and how we can internally and externally determine right and wrong based on objective truth, not on the ideas of the society around us. More often than not, they overlap, but a sense of what’s right based on what we objectively know to be true is a much more powerful guide than just following what others tell us.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
This is a wonderful adventure story set during the French-Indian War of the 1750s. Be careful when reading Cooper, though; if you’ve read one book by him, you’ll get a feeling that you’re just re-reading the same book if you read more. One is very well worth reading, though, and I suggest this one.
Accelerando by Charles Stross
Accelerando is a 2005 science fiction novel that Stross has released as a free e-book for anyone to read. It’s actually a series of nine somewhat interconnected short stories telling the story of a family before, during, and after a technological singularity – in other words, a merging of man and machine for a level of superintelligence that neither could achieve on their own. It’s a very enjoyable read with lots of thought-provoking ideas.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Little Brother is a 2007 novel by Cory Doctorow that describes how four teenagers respond to a terrorist attack in San Francisco. During the aftermath of that attack, the Department of Homeland Security tries to crack down on civil rights in the area, and the main characters fight back against it in various ways, often utilizing technology in a clever way. Much like Accelerando, this one is a great new novel that’s free for anyone to read.
Hopefully, you now have plenty to read without exploding your pocketbook.