7 Classic books you can read for free

Frederick O'Brien 22 January 2021

Not all brilliant reads are exclusively behind a paywall, some classics are much more accessible—and this is how you can access them

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby entered the public domain at the turn of the year, and caused quite a stir when it did so. Long considered one of the Great American Novels, Fitzgerald’s tale of love and loss in the roaring ‘20s is now fair game for prequels, sequels, and all manner of other weird and wonderful adaptations without the estate's permission. 

It also means you’re well within your right to download the original text and not pay anyone a penny. It joins an ever-growing club. Thanks to the tireless work of sites like Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive, more and more books are being made freely available to add to your Kindle or iBook library. There are even volunteer communities like LibriVox recording whole audio renditions so people can tick off texts hands-free.

To celebrate the release of The Great Gatsby, here are seven more stone cold classic books in the public domain, and where you can get them. There are literally tens of thousands where these came from, but for those unsure where to start you could do a lot worse than what’s below. Happy reading. 

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is a really, really good book. A little bit prim, a little bit repressed, a little bit tender, and painfully class conscious, it’s the full English romance package. Now more than 200 years old, the novel has been retold time and again, finding new audiences each time. (The 1995 BBC series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth is unquestionably the best adaptation, if you were wondering.) Still, there’s no substitute for the original, which for all its 19th-century frills holds up extremely well.  

Ebook // Audiobook

 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Few books loom larger over pop culture than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. From the Cheshire Cat to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Alice’s adventures are as weird and wonderful today as they were 150 years ago. Complete with Arthur Rackham’s stunning illustrations there’s still nothing quite like it. Everyone should go down the rabbit hole at least once.

Ebook // Audiobook (a dramatic reading no less!)

 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

 

Perhaps no book does a better job of condensing Charles Dickens’ brilliance than his 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities. Flitting between London and Paris against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the story has inspired countless projects since—even Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. And the best thing? If you like it, all Dickens’ other books are ready and waiting to be read too.

Ebook // Audiobook 

 

Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Forget big green men with bolts through their necks, Mary Shelley’s original tale is the real deal. Although her central message of people being destroyed by the monsters they create has been largely ignored in the years since publication, the tale itself continues to be very popular indeed, and with good reason. The book’s masterful blend of gothic horror, romanticism, and science fiction makes it as engrossing today as it would have been in 1818. The prose is as lovely as the subject matter is haunting. Just the thing for nighttime reading. 

Ebook // Audiobook

 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Last year sparked renewed interest in the history of racial injustice both in the United States and throughout the world. Many terrific contemporary books have been championed for those wishing to learn more - The New Jim Crow and Freedom Is A Constant Struggle among them - but in the realm of public domain there are few better places to start than Frederick Douglass’ 1845 memoir. Recounting his life as a slave before becoming a free man, the book became one of the most influential texts of the US abolitionist movement and still looms large over American culture.

Ebook // Audiobook

 

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

 

If Frankenstein doesn’t qualify as one of science fiction’s early greats, The War of the Worlds certainly does. H. G. Wells’ tale of martians arriving on Earth and giving humanity a good drubbing remains an easy read, full of vivid imagery and spectacular setpieces. Like most sci-fi worth its salt there was deeper meaning, too. Published in 1898, it is an unlikely cousin of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (another book in the public domain), with Wells’ viewing the martians as analogous to the destructiveness of the British empire.  

 

Ebook // Audiobook

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