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!
Here are 15 more free books I strongly encourage you to read. They'll inspire you and make you think about your personal, financial, and professional success as well as your place in the world. They'll help you to understand cultural references and meanings too.
Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was a man of his times, during a period in American history where people went from town to town debating and lecturing and publishing essays. Emerson was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society. He believed that an individual owed it to himself to make the most of his or her own mind and abilities, and that by doing so a person would find their own way to live, one that wasn't steered by the culture of the moment.
This is a collection of truly wonderful essays by Emerson, mirroring his first collection of essays. It includes one of the finest essays I've ever read, Self-Reliance, which I discussed in three parts in the past. That's just the start, though, as his other essays discuss compensation, prudence, heroism, love, friendship, and art in profoundly thoughtful ways, ways that will leave you reflecting deeply on your own life.
Emerson's writings are among the most powerful I've ever read. I've read and re-read many of his essays over the years and they've guided me at different points in my life. I hope they can do the same for you.
If you're willing to spend just $0.99, Emerson: The Ultimate Collection is a much more thorough collection of Emerson's essays. Think of the free book as the "highlights," and this as the much more complete collection.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a powerful novel in which the title character has a painting made of himself when he is young. As he gazes at this painting, full of youth and vigor, he wishes that he could remain that young forever, and his wish is granted. He chooses to use his eternal youthful vigor and appearance to live a hedonistic life, but he comes to find that perhaps it's not all it's cracked up to be.
Not only is the story a powerful one, it left me thinking about what I would do if I had an eternally youthful body. Would I perpetually live as I did in my late adolescence, seeking pleasure without any worries about the long term? Is there more to life than that? Is the idea of "growing up" just a result of the youth and vigor leaving our bodies? Or is there something more?
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. Meditations essentially serves as his personal journal of sorts as he figures out his place in the world, what is right and wrong, and what the best way to live a life truly is. It's divided into twelve sections (called "books") that cover different periods of the life of Marcus Aurelius.
This book is often seen as a foundational work of Stoicism, a philosophy that has a deep connection to modern ideas such as financial independence and minimalism. I've found that Stoicism has a lot in common with the ideas I write about here on The Simple Dollar, so it's quite enjoyable to see many of those principles existing in the minds of people thousands of years ago.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island is just a rip-roaring adventure story that can really appeal to almost anyone. It's perhaps the definitive pirate story as almost every idea that's used today in pirate books and movies, such as treasure maps, swords, ships, hidden treasure, and so forth all find a home here.
While this is a fun book for older children to read - Stevenson keeps the plot moving along and doesn't ever introduce anything that would be too objectionable for children - it's also got a lot to think about. Having read this to my own children not too long ago, I found the character of Long John Silver to be fascinating. He struggles with some profound moral questions and I find myself sympathizing with him often, even though he is the "villain" of the story.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens has written a ton of great novels, many of which I've enjoyed and considered listing here. David Copperfield has an eternally admirable hero that I identified deeply with. A Tale of Two Cities is a tremendous story and a powerful reminder of how the same place can seem completely different to people in different economic situations. A Christmas Carol is an eternal classic.
So why add Great Expectations to this list and not the others? In my opinion, it's the best that Dickens ever wrote. The book tracks the life and personal growth of an orphan, who goes from a street urchin to a solid member of society in part due to the aid of a mysterious benefactor. Who the benefactor is and why this benefactor is aiding the main character is part of the mystery, but also a great reflection on the good and bad inside people. It's just a beautiful book.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is a novel about obsession and singlemindedness how it can break a person. On one level, it's an incredible adventure at sea, but when you start watching how Ahab devolves as his obsession with the white whale grows, it's pretty hard not to see reflections in modern life.
I think we all have a bit of Captain Ahab in us. We find ourselves focused on one particular small piece of life and, because of that focus, we lose track of the many other things that we have. Moby Dick is a tragedy, no doubt, but it's a tragedy because of the singlemindedness and selfishness within all of us.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Austen's novels are known as romances, but they stand out because... well... they're not really romances. Sure, there's usually a relationship or two involved in the books, but they're great because they're really about manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage among people in early 19th century England that actually have a lot in common with people today. Like all great fiction, it creates a world that's just a little different than our own, and it's those differences that make those big things really stand out.
Austen is such a skilled writer, though, that you're drawn right into that world. She brings her characters alive, animating them with such vitality that you can almost believe that these characters actually existed. That she manages to also push the plot along at a fast pace while also dropping all of these thoughtful tidbits about living and society is the reason why her books are still beloved two hundred years later.
I universally recommend Jane Austen's novels and they're all available for free on the Kindle.
The Republic by Plato
The idea of "justice" is a pretty nebulous one. It's one of those words where most of us have a vague idea of what it means, but when we start digging into the specifics, things quickly get sticky.
The Republic digs into that idea. Most of the book involves Socrates going around the city of Athens, observing how the citizens there serve the city and balance that service with their own self-interests, and carrying on conversations about that with various people around the city.
Almost every page brings up some issue that deserves some careful thought. The book ends up concluding (essentially) that justice is the set of actions that preserve harmony among all in society, both in terms of their individual needs and of the place they live in. Of course, attaining that kind of justice is very difficult. The whole book is incredibly thought provoking.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
For a two year period, Henry David Thoreau chose to live as simply as possible on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. He starts off by building a house out of very basic materials that he earned in exchange for doing some work for the landowner. He grows a garden for himself and finds a wide variety of ways to provide for his own food, clothing, shelter, and fuel (to keep warm in the winter).
Walden is a diary of and reflection upon his experiences in doing so and what exactly "living deliberately" actually means. It's pretty hard to read the book without seeing at least some appeal from the situation, but where it gets really interesting is when you start thinking about the presented ideas in terms of your own daily life.
The Odyssey by Homer
This is an epic poem - almost more like a story - set in the age of Greek mythology in which Odysseus spends ten years trying to go home after the end of the Trojan War. All kinds of things befall him along the way, some of them supernatural and others deeply human. It's a heroic, exciting tale of perseverance and adventure.
This is one of those works that has been referenced and copied so many times that it seems like it is part of the fabric of our culture. As you read it, parts will immediately seem familiar and other things will pop out at you as it's clear that modern things were just references to it. Yet, still, along the way, you're going to be surprised by it. That's the beauty of a truly great work - it's often imitated, but never duplicated.
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
It's not exactly a secret that I'm not particularly impressed by the whole "positive thinking" movement. The idea that you can merely think about something and have it come true, like magic falling from the sky, is absolutely ludicrous. At the same time, I do believe there is value in carefully reflecting on and considering your own actions, even up to the point of visualizing yourself going through a difficult action and coming out on the other side successfully.
This book somewhat straddles the two perspectives, but it makes for an interesting read nonetheless. Allen's primary point is that you create the kind of person you are by the kind of thoughts you choose to have. If you choose to think negative thoughts about others, you become more negative overall, and the reverse is true as well. To a certain extent, I think this is true, but it is carried a bit too far by Allen and way too far by some of the people who picked up that idea and ran with it in later years. Still, this is a great book and well worth your time to read it.
Candide by Voltaire
Candide is a comedy of sorts, centered around a student who is sheltered and raised to be eternally optimistic and then is forced to confront some of the harsh realities of the world around him. In other words, many of the scenes come off as comedy with a strong hint of tragedy to it.
Of course, given that mix of elements, it's not surprising that it echoes very well across modern life. We're often sold an eternally optimistic world in advertising and television, but when we look at the realities of the world, it's often not that rosy. There is sometimes real pain when a person is forced to see something that they're unprepared to see, but there can also be humor in it, too. It's that comedy with a hint of sadness and reality that makes Candide a very worthwhile read.
Poems by Walt Whitman
Poetry can sometimes be a challenging thing to read, as the words are often used in a different way than the writings that we're used to. Poets like to use words much like painters use paint on a canvas - not necessarily organized, but often hauntingly beautiful. Whitman manages to combine both sides of the coin, as his poems are very readable insights into the human condition as well as amazing examples of the beauty of word choice and wordplay.
While not the most complete collection of his poetry out there, this is a very good collection, one that contains a lot of his best work. If you've ever wanted to dip your toes into great poetry, this is an absolutely incredible place to start.
I recommend this simply because so many people in the Western world act as if they are experts on the contents of it without ever having so much as looked at one. If you find the relationship between Islam and Christianity and the Western world to be of any interest to you, you owe it to yourself to read the Quran and know exactly what the foundations of Islam are.
Not only will this book teach you a great deal about Islam, it will also help you to interpret the history of the Middle East, especially in modern years. This is the book that billions follow as their holy book and to act as if you know much at all about it without having read it is a grave mistake. Read it and understand it, even if you don't necessarily agree with it.
I could write virtually the same thing about the Bible. This is such a fundamental book in terms of the development of the Western world, yet so many people only know of it through the words of others or through brief verses. If you want to know what Christianity is truly all about - and not just talk as if you do - you owe it to yourself to read this book in its entirety.
Again, not only will it teach you a great deal about Christianity, it also makes many aspects of the history of the Western world and of modern history make a great deal more sense. This is a book that billions use as their holy book, so reading it and understanding it is a fundamental key to understanding the world, whether you agree with the writings or not.
The Kindle provides a treasure trove of great books for you to read. They can entertain you and enlighten you. They can stretch your understanding of the world and fill in the blanks in your knowledge. Best of all, many of the greatest books you'll find on the Kindle are free - and you don't even need a device to read them!
Happy reading, everyone!