How To Download FREE Books with Project Gutenberg and Why You Should

What is Project Gutenberg?

Project Gutenberg is a wonderful source of free reading material that is available to anyone, anywhere in the world, for no cost…not even a log in.


The materials found on Project Gutenberg are verified as being in the public domain.  To understand “public domain”, read this article from The Lois Level: What is Public Domain? 

Project Gutenberg was founded specifically as a public service to support literacy, with the ideal of making the most consulted books in the world free to all.  The first item put in the collection was the United States Declaration of Independence. 

You might never have realized this, but in the history of publishing, only a small percentage of important literary works are protected by copyright, so sharing this material is perfectly legal. 

There are a lot more materials out there that, while not especially important, have stood the test of time as far as being entertaining reads.

There are other sources that have this material available freely online, but you have no guarantee that the document you download is accurate, and sometimes, the materials you download on paid sites, such as Amazon, are so error laden that they are unreadable. 

Project Gutenberg devotes itself to preserving literary works accurately, and they have systems in place to assure that that volunteers do so.

Downloading from Project Gutenberg is surprisingly simple too.  The books usually come in a variety of formats, including Kindle. 

If you need to go to an area that does not have reliable Internet, there is an app you can use to download the entire library when you do have Internet and take it with you.  This can be helpful for anyone working with literacy or educational initiatives of any kind in remote locations. 

While Project Gutenberg and affiliate organizations are increasingly making materials available in a variety of languages, the original PG, as an American organization, mostly has materials in English. What many first language English speakers don’t realize is that literacy skills in English is one of the most marketable jobs skills you can acquire in most parts of the world.  Even basic English skills can mean that a restaurant worker, for example, can get a job in a nicer restaurant with better pay if he/she can communicate with non-local patrons. Access to free English materials can be a major life changer for large segments of the most deprived members of the world’s population.

So Project Gutenberg is great for anyone to use, but the service they provide brings an important educational opportunity to many people.

Reasons You Should Choose Project Gutenberg Over other Free Book Sites

Here it is in a nutshell: 

1.     Project Gutenberg carefully verifies that all materials it shares are legally “out of copyright”, so no authors are being cheated.

2.     Project Gutenberg checks its materials to ensure they are correct and complete. 

3.     Project Gutenberg is a nonprofit, and exists to support literacy world wide and to ensure that no important works of literature are lost.  Rather than putting a little money in someone’s pocket, if you feel you must pay for this privilege, volunteer or donate to Project Gutenberg.

4.     Project Gutenberg provides materials in a variety of formats for (near)universal accessibility.

5.     Project Gutenberg does not require that users provide any personal information, which means that you don’t even have to trade your privacy to use it.  This feature also makes Project Gutenberg a boon for all educators because they can have students download texts directly


How to Download a Book from Project Gutenberg to Kindle

Downloading a book from Project Gutenberg might seem difficult because they don’t really give you any directions, but downloading to a Kindle is actually very simple.


1.     Navigate to gutenberg.org in the browser of your choice.

This is the home page as seen on 27 January 2021
2.     In the search box on the top left, type the name of the author or the name of the book you want and click “search”
Search box for Project Gutenberg

3. If the book or author doesn’t come up, double check the wording or spelling, or do an author search instead of title search (or vice versa). The site is a bit basic, so any minor error can make a search erroneously fail. It won’t self-correct the way Google and Amazon do.

4. When you find a title you are interested in, click on it. Don’t expect to find descriptions at Project Gutenberg; open another browser tab and search elsewhere for that. Don’t be too picky…everything is free here, and I’ve found some great hidden gems I didn’t know a thing about until I started reading!

5. The page for the book will list the formats that are available and some options for shortcuts to different sources (such as Dropbox). For Kindle, click on Kindle (with images) for the best experience.

Note that for some very popular books, there may be more than one file, as there is for Anne of Green Gables. So if you don’t see a Kindle link or a link “with images”, try again.

3.     Go to wherever your files download to.  If you don’t know, either Google it or ask someone who does.  On a Mac, look in your “Finder” app under “Downloads”.

4.     Click on the downloaded file, and a “Send to Kindle” dialogue box will open up.

5.     All of your devices with the Kindle app will appear in the dialogue box.  Confirm that the one you want it to go to is checked.  Note that if you check the box, “Archive document in your Kindle Library”, the book will automatically go to your Kindle Library on Amazon, and you can download it to any device from there in the future.

5.     All of your devices with the Kindle app will appear in the dialogue box.  Confirm that the one you want it to go to is checked.  Note that if you check the box, “Archive document in your Kindle Library”, the book will automatically go to your Kindle Library on Amazon, and you can download it to any device from there in the future.

6. Double check that your file downloaded to your Kindle. If it hasn’t, double check your Wifi Connection and then try downloading again. Also check that you had the correct device selected. It might be slow, but it should get there.

See the Tips section of this post below to find out how to download books for which there is no Kindle file…as long as there is a PDF, you can read it on your Kindle with one extra step.


More Tips and Tricks for Project Gutenberg

What do I do if there is no Kindle file for the book I want?

In the rare case that there is not a Project Gutenberg Kindle file, you can download a PDF and e-mail it to your Kindle. You can actually e-mail any document you like to your Kindle if you know this trick; I’ve used it often when I have a lot of articles to read when I’m traveling for work.

Amazon automatically assigns your Kindle its own, personal email address when you register your Kindle.

If you have your Kindle device handy: Go to home>Settings>Send to Kindle Email (your address will be right on the screen).

If you don’t:

  1. Go to amazon.com and log in if you need to.

  2. In the “My Account” menu, select “Content and Devices”.

3. When you see the page with all of your content, select the “Devices” tab.

4. After pausing for a moment in shock at all the devices you’ve owned over the years (it will show all of them, not just the ones you currently own), click on “Kindle” and select your current Kindle. You will see the email address there.

Sometimes the original page decorations can interfere with the text a little. If you have problems with that, try downloading the “no images” versions.


What if I want books from other countries or not in English?

The original Project Gutenberg is an American invention, so most of the texts are in English. They are increasingly including texts in other languages, but the texts are chosen by the volunteers, so it really just depends.

There are affiliate PG’s around the world, which you will find of list of here. You will also find books in English that are not out of copyright under U.S. law but are in other countries.

It is illegal to download copyrighted books in the U.S. from other countries’ websites. Just wait.

Why is it bad to use other sources for free books?

It isn’t bad, the idea is that Project Gutenberg is the a good option for three reasons:

  1. They ensure that the books are in the public domain in the U.S.

  2. They carefully check the books to ensure that the text is correct and authentic, without errors or omissions.

  3. They provide multiple ways for users to download the texts so that they can be easily read under a variety of circumstances.

Google Books, Hathi Trust, and other sites run by universities and libraries are reliable.

They can be hard to search or don’t allow downloading, or you need to qualify for a membership to get full access. At minimum, you need to log in.

Sites to Avoid

There are some sites that claim to be about sharing intellectual property, but they post copyrighted material illegally. I will not share their links because I don’t want to support them.

Note: Public libraries started out as subscription services much like Netflix, Audible, or Kindle Unlimited. Public libraries pay extra for their books because of the excessive handling they receive, which you already pay for through your taxes.

Read The Lois Level’s Why the American Public Library is the Foundation of our Democracy for tips on making the best use of the library and getting access to libraries legally.

Don’t pay for downloads of public domain books. They are perfectly legal; you are ripping yourself off because there’s no way of knowing whether the text is correct. If you have money you just don’t need, donate to Project Gutenberg instead.

What about audio books?

Audio books are great, and you can download them if they are in the public domain.

Project Gutenberg is including more and more audio editions (you can see some on my screen shot of Anne of Green Gables holdings above).

Libri Vox is the best resource for public domain audio books.

Note: If reading out loud is your thing, Libri Vox uses volunteer labor as well. This is a great service to provide to those who have visual limitations, language learners, and the time deprived.

There are also public domain audio books on Youtube, but their authenticity may be questionable. Libri Vox is better. In institutions, such as schools, using Youtube when you don’t need video can put extra pressure on the Wifi network. Also, with Librivox, you are downloading, not live streaming.

What if I’m going to be in an area with no Internet for a long time?

At one time, Project Gutenberg actually sent free CD’s anywhere in the world. That program has been discontinued. Now they have an app that allows you to download the entirety of Project Gutenberg as one file.

I’m giving you link to the PG page in case the app changes; click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.

This feature is especially useful for anyone going to a remote location to teach. It’s perfectly legal to share the files any way that you choose, including by printing them out.

For information on getting digital materials from the library, if you have access to one, read The Lois Level’s
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