How to Find and Download Public Domain Books from Google

Book and digital tablet
Yagi Studio (Courtesy Getty Images)

Google Books includes both your personal library of books you have purchased from Google Play or uploaded from purchases you have made from other e-bookstores. Be sure to read our tutorial on how to upload your own Books into your Google Play Books library

Google Book Search within Google Books is a very useful tool for finding books according to a keyword or keyphrase search because it 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 even find whole books that you can add to your own virtual library and read on your phone or tablet. 

Only books with specific permission can be downloaded for free, which usually means the books are old enough that they belong in the public domain. Books with intact copyright are available only for preview or, in some cases, for purchase on the Google Play store. The amount of book that can be previewed varies from citation only to the entire book, depending on the agreement Google has with the publisher.

One useful starting point may be the Internet Archive's collection of books downloaded from Google Books.  However, you can go directly to Google Books and find books you can download for free. 

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Two minutes or less

Here's How:

  1. Go to Google Books and not Google Play. 
  2. Search for something of interest, such as "Chaucer" or "Wuthering Heights"
  3. Once you have any search results, click on Search Tools in the menu above the search results. 
  4. You should see the Search Tools menu appear. Click on the option that says Any Books.
  1. Change it to Free Google eBooks

Now some of these 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 that's for forever or for a few hours. Read the description for more details on why you're allowed to download the book for free.  

You can also adjust the Any Time option in the Search Tool menu to find only older works and try 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 Tool menu to restrict your search to books with an available preview. That filter will also show free eBooks, since free books include full previews.