How to Find Public Domain Books Online

15 sources for free, public domain books

Woman using an e-reader

Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Need some new reading material? Public domain books and ebooks (books that are absolutely free to download and are no longer under copyright) are a great way to find fantastic books, from classics to romance to computer manuals. Here are 15 sources for free books or ebooks in the public domain you can quickly and easily download to your PC to read right in your web browser. Most of these sites also make their content offerings available to download for a wide variety of e-readers (such as a Kindle or a Nook) as well. 

01
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Authorama

Screenshot of Authorama website

What We Like

  • Alphabetized list of books.

  • Includes modern texts and speech transcripts.

What We Don't Like

  • Selection is rather limited.

  • Few books by authors outside Europe and the U.S.

Authorama offers a wide variety of books from a great selection of authors, anyone from Hans Christian Anderson to Mary Shelley. If you're looking for the classics, this is a good place to start.

02
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Librivox

Screenshot of the LibriVox website

What We Like

  • Listen before you download.

  • Record and share audiobooks.

What We Don't Like

  • No alphabetized list of books.

  • Limited to pre-1930s texts.

Audiobooks are a great way to get your reading in, especially if you're in your car a lot, and Librivox looks to fill that need with hundreds of freely available audiobooks. Volunteers sign up to read chapters of public domain books, then those chapters are placed online for readers to download for free.

Be sure to look for the Librivox app to add to your mobile device so you can listen to all of your favorites on the go. 

03
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Google Books

Screenshot of Google Books website

What We Like

  • Powered by the largest search engine.

  • Mobile app optimized for e-readers.

What We Don't Like

  • Mobile app lacks support for bookmarks and personalization options.

From Google Books comes a nice selection of public domain ebooks mostly in the classical literature genre, but you can also search Google Books or use the main Google search engine to find all manner of public domain ebooks.

There are a number of different searches you can plug into Google to help with your search. Use the following suggestions. You can append whatever subject you're looking for either in front of or following the phrase in quotes, e.g., boating laws "public domain"

Quotes should be used around these phrases in order to bring back accurate results.

  • "public domain"
  • "this document is in the public domain"
  • "this text is in the public domain"
  • "this information is in the public domain"
  • "this page is in the public domain"
  • site:.edu "not copyrighted"
  • site:.edu "public domain"
  • site:.gov "not copyrighted"
  • site:.gov "public domain"
  • site:.org "not copyrighted"
  • site:.org "public domain"

You can also use Google Scholar to find public domain works. In Google Scholar, click the hamburger menu in the upper left corner and select Advanced Search, and in the Date/Return articles published between field, type in 1923 in the second date box, which will return public domain works. Again, be sure to double-check each piece of content to make sure that it does indeed fall under public domain.

04
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Project Gutenberg

Screenshot of the Project Gutenberg website

What We Like

  • Includes thousands of non-English books.

  • Very easy to browse books alphabetically and by subject.

What We Don't Like

  • Website supports only English, French, Portuguese, and German.

  • Search feature has a learning curve.

Project Gutenberg is one of the oldest sources for public domain books on the web. Over 59,000 books are available at the time of this writing, in many different formats (PC, Kindle, Sony reader, etc.). It has one of the widest selections you'll find of freely available books on the web.

05
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Feedbooks

Screenshot of the Feedbooks website

What We Like

  • Send books directly to your tablet, phone, or e-reader.

  • Offers obscure science fiction.

What We Don't Like

  • Mostly European and American literature.

  • Browsing interface is confusing at first.

Feedbooks offers free public domain books, as well as original works from authors uploading their books to the site, which is a great way to discover new reading from authors who aren't necessarily in the spotlight as yet. In addition, if you've been itching to publish a book, Feedbooks is a good source to get the word out as well.

06
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Internet Archive

Screenshot of the Internet Archive website

What We Like

  • Very thorough search filter.

  • Borrow newer books for free.

What We Don't Like

  • Challenging to navigate, interface is overwhelming.

  • Mostly academic and educational texts.

The Internet Archive is an amazing resource for public domain books, with sub-collections such as American Libraries, Children's Library, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. More collections are added on a regular basis, so be sure to check back often for new reading material.

07
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ManyBooks

Screenshot of the ManyBooks website

What We Like

  • Attractive and easy to browse.

  • Blog contains book suggestions.

What We Don't Like

  • Books may be inappropriate for some.

  • Small selection of non-English books.

ManyBooks offers more than 28,000 free public domain books for download. The site is organized so you can books as easily as possible: by Authors, by Titles, by Genres, by New Titles. This is one of the most user-friendly sites on the web for finding and downloading free books.

08
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LoudLit

Screenshot of the LoudLit website

What We Like

  • Powerful readings of classic poems and short stories.

  • A great resource for English teachers.

What We Don't Like

  • Small collection compared to Librivox.

  • Very bare-bones homepage.

Similar to Librivox, LoudLit partners up great literature found in the public domain with high-quality audio recordings, both available for download right to your PC or e-reader.

09
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Online Library of Liberty

Screenshot of the Online Library of Liberty website

What We Like

  • Material you won't find anywhere else.

  • A treasure trove of political history.

What We Don't Like

  • Selection has a narrow focus.

  • An unabashed political agenda.

The Online Library of Liberty offers readers "individual liberty, limited constitutional government, and the free market," all in the public domain and free for download.

10
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Questia

Screenshot of the Questia website

What We Like

  • Great resource for students and writers.

  • Browser-friendly e-reader.

What We Don't Like

  • Subscription needed to access journals and magazines.

  • Distracting advertisements.

Questia offers books, journal articles, magazines, and newspaper articles, all in the humanities and social sciences. Questia is especially useful for anyone needing scholarly resources, since all the materials are reviewed by collection librarians.

11
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ReadPrint

Screenshot of the Read Print website

What We Like

  • Create a profile and communicate with other readers.

  • Well organized database of famous quotes.

What We Don't Like

  • Focus on popular British literature.

  • The "groups" social feature doesn't always work.

Books, essays, poems, stories; all available at ReadPrint, along with 8000 other books by 3500 authors.

12
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World Public Library

Screenshot of the World Public Library website

What We Like

  • Includes recordings found on Librivox and elsewhere.

  • Well-designed homepage.

What We Don't Like

  • Must create an account.

  • Features may be overwhelming if you're looking for old books.

While the World Public Library site, a database of over 400,000 works, is not free, you can access the Sound of Literary Works page gratis. Each of these classic literature and poetry performance audiobooks is free to download.

13
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Classic Literature Library

Screenshot of the Classic Literature Library website

What We Like

  • Partners with Project Gutenburg.

  • Impressive author biographies and bibliographies.

What We Don't Like

  • Site is cluttered with ads.

  • Only features British and American authors.

This site is extremely well organized into collections: Classic American Literature, Classic Italian Literature, the complete works of William Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Fairy Tales and Children's Literature, and lots more.

14
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Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Screenshot of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website

What We Like

  • Excellent resource for seminary students.

  • Includes biblical commentary you won't find elsewhere.

What We Don't Like

  • Narrow focus.

  • Tons of ads.

Read classic Christian writings from hundreds of years of church history. You'll find everything from research materials to Bible studies on this site. The site also has MP3 versions of some books, as well as PDF, ePub, and PNG formatted publications.

15
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O'Reilly Open Books Project

Screenshot of the O'Reilly Open Books website

What We Like

  • Great tool for learning software development.

  • Wide selection of out-of-print books.

What We Don't Like

  • Selection is limited to a single broad topic.

  • Very few texts in languages other than English.

Technical audiobooks are available from the O'Reilly Open Books Project, mostly focusing on programming languages and computer operating systems. O'Reilly makes these books available for a variety of reasons, including historical relevance and general education. The publisher is also proud to be part of the Creative Commons community.