Finding Public Domain Books

31 Days of Vintage E-Books

The World of Public Domain Books

Vintage e-books

Much has changed in the world since Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450.  Since that time humanity’s love of the written word has found its way into countless books.  In a fitting tribute to this marvelous invention, Project Gutenberg has become the single greatest resource for keeping the books of yesterday accessible today.  The only difficulty I have with Gutenberg is that searching their vast website for anything other than specific books can be daunting, even frustrating..

The way I’ve had the most success has been to search for a narrow (rather than broad) subject, and then to explore other books by the authors of what I find. For example, I am trying to find biographies suitable for children.  Rather than search for biographies, I type in the first name that comes to mind: Daniel Boone.


There’s a decent number of books here, so I chose the first one that catches my interest and delve deeper. While on this page, I notice that there are 48 other books by the same author.



Many of his books are adventure stories (a fact I file away into Evernote for future reference) but I see a few biographies as well.



I now have two new names to search for.  A search for “Dewey” is disappointing, but a search for Kit Carson is more rewarding.



Scouting with Kit Carson reveals that Everett T. Tomlinson has written 7 other books, but Mr. Tomlinson does not further inspire me with new names to search for.


I suddenly remember that one other author has shown up on both the Daniel Boone and Kit Carson pages: Jacob Abbott.

Screenshot_2014-10-04-05-09-46_kindlephoto-203166410 Screenshot_2014-10-04-05-34-15_kindlephoto-202712623

Yippee!  Jacob Abbott has 22 books on Project Gutenberg.



Best of all, most of them are biographies. I suddenly possess a treasure trove of names to run searches on.  All because of Daniel Boone. And there it is, my personal method for falling down the rabbit hole.

Project Gutenberg has a large number of helpful resources that explain the best ways to use the files on their website.  These can be found on the lower half of their main page, but I’ve also linked to a few of the best resources below.

About Project Gutenberg

Bookshelves: the simplest way to browse, but the catagories are usually incomplete.  I use them more as inspiration for running narrow searches as I described above.

Instructions for using their files on various devices.

Frequently Asked Questions

New Project Gutenberg Books: This Facebook page posts every time a new book is added to Project Gutenberg’s website.

Final tip:  each page only shows 25 books. If the option is available, make sure you click through to the next page.



Two other sites that offer accessible public domain works are and Google Play Books.

In my experience, is best for reading on computers rather than e-readers.  Their e-reader files are very badly formatted, practically unreadable in many instances. Still, they are fairly easy to search and have many books available that have not yet been formatted by Project Gutenberg.

When running a search on Google Play Books, you have to run the search and then ask that they only show you the Free results.  Like so…….



Google Play Books offers many, many rare works that are not found elsewhere on the Internet, but most of them must be read online or in PDF format.

In summary, Project Gutenberg remains unexcelled as a resource for free public domain books, but and Google Play are useful when searching for a book that is not available via Gutenberg.

There are also places that offer public domain books for a small fee, but we will look into those sites another week.

For information about the use of public domain books, as well as inspiring ways to use them and tips on how to print them, check out the informative Homeschool Commons website.


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