How to Find and Download Public Domain Books From Google

An immense collection of literature is available free online

Book and digital tablet
Yagi Studio (Courtesy Getty Images)

A wealth of classic literature lives on the internet free to anyone who can find it. Google Book Search within Google Books is a useful tool for finding these books according to a keyword or key phrase search because Google searches the content within books as well as the title or other metadata surrounding the book. The Google database contains a massive library of scanned books from the collections of public and academic libraries.

You can search for snippets, passages, and quotes. Sometimes you can find whole books that you can add to your own library and read on your phone or tablet. 

Only books with specific permissions can be downloaded for free, which usually means the books are old enough that they belong in the public domain, although they sometimes include modern books that are offered as an introduction to a series. Books with intact copyrights are available only for preview or, in some cases, for purchase on the Google Play Store. The amount of a book that can be previewed varies from a citation only to the entire book depending on the agreement Google has with the publisher.

You can go directly to Google Books and find books you can download for free. You'll need an author, genre, title or some other descriptive term to enter into the seach engine. 

How to Find Free Books Using Google Books

  1. Go to Google Books and not Google Play. 
  1. Search for a descriptive term, such as "Chaucer" or "Wuthering Heights."
  2. After Google returns the search results, click on Tools in the menu above the search results. 
  3. You should see the Search Tools menu appear at the top of the search results. Click on the option that says Any Books.
  4. Change it to Free Google eBooks in the drop-down menu to narrow the search results.
  1. When you find a book you want to download, click it to open its page and choose Add to my library at the top of the screen. If you prefer to download the book as a PDF, go to the Settings cog icon and select Download PDF.

Some of the books in the search results aren't going to be classic books or even public domain books. Some are just going to be books someone wrote and wants to distribute for free on Google Books, whether forever or for only a few hours. Read the description that appears with each of the books in the search results list for more details.  

You can adjust the Any Time option in the Search Tools menu to find only older works to exclude modern commentaries. 

If you are not necessarily interested in reading a full book and just want to find out some information, you can use the Search Tools menu to restrict your search to books with an available preview by selecting Preview available in the Any Time drop-down menu. That filter also shows free eBooks because free eBooks include full previews.