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100 Free Online Books Everyone Should Read

Posted on Tuesday March 31, 2009 by Staff Writers

By Caitlin Smith

Whether you want to learn more about business or read some the great works of literature, you’ll find more than enough material to keep you busy for months in collections of free ebooks. Some books are released free of charge by their authors, while others have been around for so long that copyright laws no longer apply and they can be freely exchanged. We’ve pulled together 100 of these free online books that are well worth your time to read, though this is by no means a comprehensive list of the great, free literature out there.

Classics

The Internet can be a great place to find some of the most important works of literature from the past few hundred years. Here are just a few works that have made must-read lists that you can access for free.

  1. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Pilgrimages were a major part of medieval life and you can enjoy several different perspectives as Chaucer’s characters travel to Canterbury Cathedral.
  2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain: This well-loved novel follows the hi jinks of young Tom Sawyer, full of humor, adventure and fun.
  3. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: French bourgeois life in all of its soul-crushing triviality is explored through the character of Emma Bovary in this novel.
  4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: Follow along with this book as Captain Ahab tracks down his arch-nemesis the legendary white whale.
  5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo: Full of tragic characters, this novel explores life from its beauty to its horror.
  6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Is murder ever justified? This novel explores through its main character the student Raskolnikov.
  7. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne: This sci-fi novel is full of adventure as a group of sailors try to track down a deadly sea monster.
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: This story explores the many difficulties associated with marriage and morality in 18th century England.
  9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre follows Jane, an orphan, throughout her life providing readers with a compelling story full of love, social criticisms and many elements characteristic of the Gothic novel.
  10. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: Get a more personalized tale of life during the French Revolution as the monarchy is replaced by a regime responsible for terror and numerous executions.
  11. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Many know little of this novel other than that its long, but the story takes readers through the impact of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia through a vast and varied cast of characters.
  12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: Treachery and lost love form the basis for this novel by Three Musketeers author Dumas.
  13. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: This novella takes readers to the depths of the Congo to find the mysterious Kurtz, along the way exploring ideas of imperialism.
  14. Ulysses by James Joyce: The classical Modernist novel, Ulysses follows the story of the Odyssey through stream of consciousness writing that’s been called everything from brilliant to obscene.
  15. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse: This novel parallels the life of the Buddha, employing Eastern philosophy in a beautiful and poignant tale of a quest for enlightenment.
  16. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Set in the years following WWI, this book explores the life of Princeton student Amory Blaine as he struggles with greed, morality, status and more.
  17. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells: When the Victorian scientist at the center of this story propels himself forward in time he discovers a world that may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
  18. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: This abolitionist novel helped fuel the movement towards the end of slavery in the United States.
  19. Little Women by Louise May Alcott: Follow along with the young women in this novel who come of age in this 19th century setting.
  20. Don Quixote by Cervantes: This famous Spanish novel follows the often absurd travels of Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho Panza.
  21. The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Originally published in a magazine, this collection of definitions is entertaining, enlightening and controversial.
  22. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: Readers will be familiar with the title character in this novel who leads a double life as the unpredictable Mr. Hyde.
  23. Dracula by Bram Stoker: With all the hubbub about vampires these days why not read the classic vampire novel about the most famous vampire of them all?
  24. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: This psychological short story will have readers questioning their own judgment about what’s real and what’s imagined.
  25. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis is one of Kafka’s most famous short stories, transforming traveling salesman Gregor into a horrifying cockroach.

Philosophy and Religion

These famous works will help you get a better understanding of religious and philosophical theories from around the world and through many different periods of time.

  1. Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary: This series of essays is highly critical of French life during the 19th century and takes aim at the government, society and religious institutions.
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes: This 17th century book on social contract theory explores the nature of legitimate government and the structure of society.
  3. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche: This book deals with ideas such as the “eternal recurrence of the same”, the “death of God”, and the “prophecy” of the Overman, themes expanded on from earlier writings.
  4. Beyond Good and Evil by Freidrich Neitszche: This work expands on Thus Spoke Zarathustra, attempting to move beyond traditional definitions of good and evil and tries to gain a better sense of the nature of knowledge and the condition of modern man.
  5. Discourse of a Method by Renee Descartes: This philosophical and mathematical work is essential to understanding modern science and thought.
  6. The Tao Te Ching by Laozi: Written in the 6th century, this text is fundamental to the Taoist school of Chinese thought and has had influence throughout the centuries since its creation.
  7. The Bible: Even if you’re not a Christian, the Bible will help inform your understanding of numerous aspects of Western society from great art to historical motivations.
  8. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Breaking with the corrupt and indulgent Catholic Church of the Baroque era, this work marks the beginnings of Protestantism.
  9. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant: Regarded as the most important work by this German philosopher, The Critique of Pure Reason investigates the limitations reason itself.
  10. The Sayings of Confucius: With lessons on morality, social relationships, justice and society at large, these teachings form the foundation of Confucianism.
  11. The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell: This book is an attempt to create a more accessible guide to the issues of philosophy.
  12. Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome by E.M. Berens: The mythology of ancient Greece and Rome is a part of any complete reading of Western history.
  13. The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer: This study of mythology and religion takes a logical approach to understanding the place of these in modern society.

Politics, Economics and History

Check out these free books to learn more about some important political and economic ideas.

  1. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels: Even if you don’t agree with the tenets of socialism you can’t argue about the importance of this work that’s essential to understanding political and philosophical thought in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  2. Common Sense by Thomas Paine: Those looking to learn more about American history will appreciate this work that encouraged colonists to pursue freedom from British rule.
  3. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith: Scottish economist Adam Smith’s well-known work explores the intricacies of the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
  4. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: While today Machiavelli’s name bring negative connotations, this Italian work is essential reading for those interested in politics and the maintenance of political entities.
  5. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: The burgeoning industries of the U.S. brought about many positive changes but some pretty negative ones as well, and this novel was one of the first to expose the seamy underbelly of turn of the century factory work.

Plays and Poems

While novels are a great source of learning, plays and poems shouldn’t be neglected if you want to be well-rounded in your knowledge of literature. These free selections can be a great place to start.

  1. Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson: Get a good background in the works of a great American poet though this free collection.
  2. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: With this complete collection of works, you’ll be able to pick and choose the plays and poems you find most interesting.
  3. The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Learn more about the works of this Romantic poet through this large collection of his works.
  4. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw: While many people may have seen the film adaptation of this play in My Fair Lady, the written version is just as full of wit and charm.
  5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: Explore the depths of hell through this highly important work of Italian literature.
  6. Paradise Lost by John Milton: This epic poem follows the fall of Lucifer and his subsequent seduction into sin of the human race.
  7. The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe: One of the most well-known poems ever written, this work by Poe is essential to any reading list.
  8. Hedda Gabler by Heinrich Ibsen: In this play, a bored housewife dabbles in the lives of others with disastrous results.
  9. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: With plot twists and turns about mistaken identities, love triangles and romantic affairs this play is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
  10. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth: The works of this English Romantic poet helped bring about a new style and approach to literature in 18th century England.
  11. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot: This influential modernist work deals with death, grieving and coming to terms with loss.

Ancient Writings

Go old school with your reading by taking a look at these important texts. You’ll find ideas and stories that have influenced people in the thousand-plus years since they were written.

  1. The Iliad by Homer: This epic poem about the Trojan War is one of, if not the oldest, work of literature in the Greek language.
  2. The Odyssey by Homer: Homer’s other epic poem, the Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus and his long, problematic journey home.
  3. The Art of War by Sun Tzu: The Art of War was written in the 6th century and contains explanations about military strategy and tactics that can still be useful today in any competitive field.
  4. The Works of Aristotle: Aristotle’s writings influence writers in the centuries following his life and are still part of philosophy and liberal arts educations today.
  5. Symposium by Plato: These speeches by Plato explore love and passion.
  6. Apology, Crito, and Phaedo of Socrates by Plato: Socrates was executed for his supposed corruption of young minds, and Plato expands upon the ideas of this great thinker through this series of writings.
  7. Aesop’s Fables: From simple morality to classic tales you’ve likely heard before, this collection of fables is full of humor, wit and insight into human nature.
  8. Beowulf: This ancient epic work is full of manly fights, hideous, bloodthirsty monsters, revenge, action and adventure that is at your fingertips after you learn to get past the Old English writing.
  9. The Aeneid by Virgil: This epic poem tells the story of Aeneas, ancestor to the Romans, and his travels from Troy to Italy.
  10. Poetics by Aristotle: Aristotle’s theory of poetry is a classic work that lays out terms you may already be familiar with from catharsis to mimesis.

Technology and Business

Learn more about the basics of business online and off with these free online texts.

  1. How to Speak and Write Correctly by Joseph Devlin: Learn how to improve your communication skills from this book, helping you go further in many aspects of life.
  2. Professional Customer Service: If you own a business the customer is the real boss, so learn how to provide efficient, high-quality customer service from this ebook.
  3. Fail As Fast As You Can and Other Contrarian Business Secrets: Don’t want to run your business into the ground? Check out this online book to learn how to avoid that fate.
  4. Beginners Guide to the Internet: Whether you’re trying to get your business on the web or just want to learn to navigate it a little better, this text can give you the information you need.
  5. Web Marketing Success: Web marketing is an essential for most businesses today and you’ll get the basics from this ebook.
  6. Art and Science of Obtaining Venture or Angel Investor Capital: Need some capital to get your business off the ground? This text can help you find great investors in your business.

Finances

With an economy on the decline, you should be aware of where every cent you have is going. These free texts can help you make sound financial decisions even in tough times.

  1. What Women Need to Know About Retirement: This text is a great read for women who want to make sure they’re well-prepared for their golden years.
  2. ID Theft: What It’s All About: Worried you might have your identity stolen? This short book will help you understand what happens in ID theft and what you can do to prevent and recover from it.
  3. Estate Planning: Make sure your loved ones are well-provided for even if you’re not around with some careful estate planning. Check out this book for tips and advice.
  4. Savings Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future: You worry about getting your body in shape why not your finances too? In this book you’ll find some ways to pump up your savings and investments.
  5. Get the Facts on Saving and Investing: This book will give you the basics on saving and investing for newbies in the financial field.
  6. Building a Better Credit Report: From getting the free credit report to which you’re entitled to helping improve your credit score, you’ll find loads of helpful advice in this government produced text.
  7. Consumer Action Handbook: If you feel like you’ve gotten ripped off you may be able to take action against the perpetrator. Find out more by reading this ebook from this government consumer action group.
  8. Taking Control of Your Finances: Feel like you’re going in financial down spin? This text can help you get a handle on your spending, increase saving and deal with a variety of other financial issues.
  9. Banking Basics: Learn how to use your bank the right way from this ebook.
  10. Know Before You Go: To Get a Mortgage: If you’re thinking of buying a new home this guide can help you make sure you don’t make any big blunders.

Not Just for Kids

While many of these books are today considered children’s literature, their enjoyment is hardly limited to the youthful.

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Take a tumble down the rabbit hole into the topsy-turvy world of this classic book.
  2. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams: The stuffed rabbit at the center of this story wants nothing more than to become real through the love of his owner.
  3. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie: The iconic character of Peter Pan saw his beginnings in this well-received story.
  4. Grimm’s Fairy Tales: With evil witches, beautiful princes, enchantment, adventure and more, these stories will keep adults and children engaged for hours.
  5. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: Anyone who’s ever really loved an animal will appreciate this simple, touching story of the life of a horse.
  6. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: The collection of animal characters that form the cast of this book wander about on the river, ultimately pursuing storylines that provide valuable moral lessons.
  7. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: From swashbuckling on the high seas to hidden treasures, this novel explores themes often uncommon in children’s literature like the ambiguity of morality making it a work that holds up for adult readers as well.
  8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum: While many are familiar with the film version of this classic, the original book is well worth a read at any age.
  9. Beatrix Potter Collected Works: Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated many well-loved children’s stories that appeal to adults and children alike in their simplicity and charm.
  10. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: From the diminutive Lilliputians to the giants of Brobdingnag this book provides plenty of adventure with a little satire on human nature as well.

Miscellaneous

From great biographies to essential historical writings, these varied books are well-worth your time to check out.

  1. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: One of the best loved founding fathers, this story tells about the life of Franklin in his own words.
  2. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: Here you’ll find an epic success story of the child of slaves who grew to be a great intellectual and public figure.
  3. The Education of Henry Adams: This book records the experiences of Henry Adams as he comes to terms with the changing and modernizing world in his old age.
  4. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci: Explore the mind of one of the greatest artists and thinkers through his many notebooks.
  5. Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky: This modernist painter explores how painting affects the viewer in this theoretical work.
  6. Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari: Often regarded as the earliest art historian, Vasari writes about the lives of the artists that play an important role in the Renaissance and the years leading up to it.
  7. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: While it may not make for the most exciting reading, this book is essential for those who want to understand the origins of modern biology.
  8. Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson: From advocating the rights of women to speaking about the joys of nature, this collection of essays is great non-fiction reading.
  9. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Get some inspiration on moving closer to nature in this classic work.
  10. The Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana: Keep your relationships spicy by checking out this ancient text full of advice on the art of lovemaking.