To say we live in a golden age for reading would be an understatement: a lot of the most important and entertaining books ever written—from ancient Greek philosophy to Russian novels, from romantic comedies to horror stories—are available completely free as ebooks. Whether you want to read them on your computer or on your phone, on a Kindle or just using the Kindle app, you can read hundred of books not just without breaking the bank, but without spending a cent.
Below we've highlighted some of the books available as free ebooks that have been recommended by experts on Five Books. If you want to read them on your e-reader or Kindle, here are a number of ways of finding them:
1. via Amazon. If you have a Kindle, Amazon make it very easy to read ebooks for free, especially if you already have Amazon Prime membership. Go to the Kindle store on your computer or phone, punch in the title of the book you want, and set the filter to 'price lowest to highest'. (You'll need to reset this filter every time you change the search term, unfortunately). You'll hopefully see the book you're looking for listed for $0.00.
One caveat: anyone can publish via Amazon, so it could be an edition riddled with strange typos. We've noticed that Amazon do an 'Amazon Classics' range of ebooks, free for Amazon Prime members, which seems to have some quality control in place (judging by the books we've looked at so far).
Note: you could search for the book on your Kindle directly, but it's not easy to filter by price, so hard to find that holy grail of 'Kindle Price: $0.00'
2. What happens if you cannot find your ebook for free on Amazon? Don't give up yet. If the book is in the public domain—which most books over a century year old are—the next place to search is Project Gutenberg. This is a wonderful initiative making ebooks freely available. You can read the books online, download them to your computer or device, or download them to your Kindle or other e-reader.
The first step is to go to Kindle's experimental browser. Use it to go to the Gutenberg.org site, search for your book, and download it in the format you want (e.g. Kindle (with images)). Note: this will also work for other e-readers, not just the Kindle.
“This is the novel that inaugurated time travel as a sub-genre. Wells picked up the up-to-date (in the 1890s) scientific speculation about time being a fourth dimension, and ran with it, imagining a machine that could take a man backwards and forwards through time….It is a short novel, almost a novella, but it is smoothly and evocatively written, and it manages to open a chink in the reader’s mind that gives a dizzying, thrilling glimpse down the vertiginous perspectives of long time.” Read more...
Adam Roberts, Novelist
by Wilkie Collins
Viewed by TS Eliot as the inventor of the modern English detective novel, Wilkie Collins’s books remain some of the best mysteries ever written. Opinions vary whether The Moonstone or The Woman in White is better, one thing is for sure: if you like one, you’ll want to read the other. The audiobook of The Moonstone is really nicely performed by the English character actor Peter Jeffrey (1929-1999).
Narrator: Peter Jeffrey
Length: 18 hours and 45 minutes
by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre was published in 1847—with the novel's author listed as 'Currer Bell'—and was an immediate commercial success. The main protagonist, Jane, is an orphan who has an extremely tough life before meeting the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, he has dark secrets and the sense of foreboding that pervades the novel makes it also something of a thriller.
“Lots and lots of people know the phrase, that ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ means a split personality: good on one side, evil on the other. They might even have seen one or two film adaptations of the book. But I think one of the things that would surprise folk who haven’t read the original book, first of all, is that it’s very short. It’s a novella, only about 150 pages long, yet it’s dealing with such amazingly deep themes.” Read more...
Landmarks of Scottish Literature
James Robertson, Novelist
“London’s prose is passionate and evocative; it transports the reader to the brutal, beautiful wilds of Yukon and the lives and minds of the wolves, dogs, and men.” Read more...
José Castelló, Biologist
“This is the ultimate dystopia written by someone who wasn’t just one of the greatest of all journalists, but one of the most prescient…Orwell is of perennial fascination to me because…he straddles the world of investigative journalism and fiction. He also deliberately chose to experience different levels of society, which I believe is essential for a novelist interested in the truth about the way we live now. He wrote this book in 1948, when he was dying of tuberculosis, in a great burst of passionate determination, because he could see long before other people where totalitarianism and communism were heading. Animal Farm had told it as a kind of dark fairy-tale, but this was the culmination. The intellectual dishonesty of the Left, which refused to see how evil Stalin was, is despicable, and Orwell was brave enough to stand up to his friends as well as his enemies. Orwell saw the death of the dream at first-hand in Spain. He was in contact with a lot of communists, and fought on their sides against Fascism but, as Stalin’s Russia gained power, he could see this dream of equality that so many idealistic and young people have shared leaves a nightmare, just like Fascism. Anything other than democracy and truth leaves the jackboot stamping eternally into the human face, as Winston realises. His hero Winston is named, of course, after Winston Churchill” Read more...
Amanda Craig, Journalist
by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley started writing the Frankenstein story when she was 18, and it was published in London two years later. Her chilling tale of how Victor Frankenstein put together a creature by sewing together human parts is said to be the first true science fiction story. If you've never read it, or read it a long time ago, it's definitely worth picking up again, as the subtleties of the original book, entitled Frankenstein: the Modern Prometheus, may have been displaced in your mind by the various cartoons and monster-movies connected to the original only by the name 'Frankenstein' (and some people, who haven't read the book, think Frankenstein is the name of the monster, rather than the name of the scientist who put the creature together).
Read below why it's one of the books most frequently recommended by the experts we've interviewed—on subjects as diverse as fear of death, women and society, and transhumanism.
“The only autobiography by a major Italian Renaissance artist. We don’t have Leonardo’s, or Michelangelo’s, or anybody else’s memoirs. But we do have Cellini’s, and they are absolutely astonishing. It’s a completely thrilling book, and anybody who loves Italy and Italian art has to read it. I more often than not take it with me when I’m in Florence or Rome, to read passages of it. If a few hundred readers discover this book then we will have done something very, very worthwhile. We’ll have enriched their lives.” Read more...
Five of the Best European Classics
David Campbell, Publisher
The Interesting Narrative
by Olaudah Equiano
This is a fascinating book, a memoir written in the 18th century by Olaudah Equiano. Born in Africa, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, eventually managed to buy and retain his freedom, and ultimately settled in the UK where he was very active in the abolitionist movement. Reading what it was like being a slave in the 18th century, written by someone who was one, is a transformative experience, and it's no surprise this book has been recommended many times on Five Books.
“You’ve got to have Jane Austen. She’s the first serious novelist. She is treating the novel in a way that we understand and creating an art form. I chose Emma. It would have been easier to choose Pride and Prejudice because it’s everyone’s favourite—it tops polls regularly. But if you want something a little bit more considered… It’s the most mature of the seven” Read more...
Robert McCrum, Journalist
by Emily Brontë
The novel Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, was first published under the pen name Ellis Bell in 1847, just a year before Emily's death in 1848. Below, in our interviews with literary critics and journalists, you'll see why many people still view it as one of the greatest novels ever written in English. Also worth looking at are the contemporary reviews, some of which were found in Emily's desk after her death. These are available on the web (see links below), but are also included in the Norton Critical Edition of Wuthering Heights.
Pride and Prejudice (Book)
by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice was published more than 200 years ago, in 1813, but the book still speaks to us across the centuries. Written by Jane Austen when she was only 20, its original title was First Impressions. Like many great books, it was initially rejected by publishers and did not appear till years later, now under the title we know it by, Pride and Prejudice. By then, Austen had already had commercial success with Sense and Sensibility, a novel that also compares and contrasts two characters with the qualities (flaws) signalled in the title of the book.
Pride and Prejudice was a trailblazing book, not least because it has served as the template for every romance novel and Mills & Boon written since. The countless book and screen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice speak to a story that has universal appeal, its characters and plotline appearing in everything from Bridget Jones's Diary to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
But Pride and Prejudice is more than just a happily-ever-after story. Philosophers and literary scholars are just some of the experts we've interviewed who have chosen Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as essential reading on their topic. Along with many other people, it is Austen scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks's favourite Austen book. As she explains below, it's also a serious work. Exploring that theme, she produced Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, published by Harvard University Press, which includes over 2,000 annotations to the text.
You can read all our interviews featuring Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice—and browse some of the original reviews and 19th century commentary on the book—below.
“Huckleberry Finn is another romance of the divide. The trip down the Mississippi, from the Upper South border regions to the Deep South, and back again, is the movement of the plot. It’s also a romance across the color line, between Huck and his companion, Jim, who escaped slavery. Romance doesn’t necessarily mean a sexual relationship. (Although it has been argued that there’s a homoerotic bond between Huck and Jim, I think that is overheated.) The friendship and understanding between Jim and Huck is the moral center of gravity for the book.” Read more...
“This is Plato’s version of Socrates’ court speech. It’s very short, yet it gives us all sorts of extraordinary things. On first reading it is a brilliant piece of forensic oratory…This is so much more sophisticated as writing than most philosophy written today. It’s amazing that 2,500 years ago there were writers around who were better at writing about ideas than just about anyone alive today, even though there are many more philosophers in our era.” Read more...
M M McCabe, Philosopher
Collected Ghost Stories
by MR James
MR James’s Ghost Stories are available as an audiobook, read by the legendary British actor Sir Derek Jacobi.
“I first came across it when I was nine years old. I still remember this cartoon which had the raven in it. It really affected me because the raven was so sinister and nasty. It really scared me. It was so close to things to do with death and the supernatural. What I was looking at was a cartoon version of Poe’s The Raven. I was so taken by the story I asked my mother to track down the original for me.” Read more...
The best books on Swedish Crime Writing
The Daodejing or 道德經 is one of the classics of Chinese philosophy. In English editions, it's sometimes still called the Tao Te Ching, which is an older system of romanizing the same Chinese characters. 'Dao' can be roughly translated as 'the Way,' 'De' tends to mean virtue in modern Chinese, but probably meant something more like 'power' in old Chinese. 'Jing' denotes that this book, which is around two-and-a-half millennia old, is one of the classics.
On the Origin of Species
by Charles Darwin & James Costa
***🏆 A Five Books Best Book of All Time ***
“An educated person is someone who knows at least a little bit about the major disciplines in human endeavour. And in biology, this is what you need to know – not only historically but also contemporaneously, because Darwin was right, and still is right, about so many things.” Read more...
Jerry Coyne, Biologist
“One of the aims of my little book On Conan Doyle is to urge people to explore Conan Doyle’s many wonderful non-Sherlockian works. Certainly the one that most people should start with is The Lost World. It introduces Professor George Edward Challenger, a self-important but wonderfully funny and committed scientist who discovers a plateau in a South American jungle where dinosaurs still roam the earth. This is based on some actual historical explorations that were going on at the time. The novel obviously inspired Jurassic Park. It is one of the great classic versions of a lost civilisation.” Read more...
The Best Sherlock Holmes Books
Michael Dirda, Journalist
“I chose The Communist Manifesto, rather than, say, Capital because it shows in a much easier-to-read, shorter work something that is central to Marx’s vision. ..The Communist Manifesto is an early work, published in February 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe, when Marx was not quite 30. The Manifesto shows Marx still thinking within the framework of Hegel’s ideas about contradiction but transforming them from something that’s happening in our consciousness to something that’s happening in the material world.” Read more...
Peter Singer on Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Peter Singer, Philosopher
by Bram Stoker
Dracula by Bram Stoker is the classic 1897 Gothic horror story. The most famous vampire story, Dracula has underlying themes of race, religion, superstition, science, and sexuality. Find out why Dracula is one of Five Books' most recommended books. Also worth looking at are Bram Stokers Notes for Dracula which contains Stoker's research notes.
***We recommend the Landmark edition of Herodotus's Histories***
Herotodus's Histories, which dates from around 425BC, is the earliest continuous Greek text in prose to survive, according to Regius Professor of Greek Emeritus at Oxford University, Christopher Pelling. It's a book that changed the meaning of 'history' forever, because in ancient Greek the word historie suggested ‘enquiry.’ Herodotus was investigating the wonders of the world, rather than writing a history as such.
by James Joyce
Ulysses by James Joyce is one of the masterpieces of modernist literature, a movement at the beginning of the 20th century when the traditional storylines of the Victorian novel were left behind to experiment with new ways of expressing human experience. Though hard to read, those who have made the effort are often enthralled by it and regard it as among the very best books they've ever read. For that reason alone, Ulysses is worth pursuing, possibly with the help of a guide:
War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is regarded by many as one of the greatest novels ever written. In our interviews, philosophers, historians and novelists have recommended it as critical reading for understanding a variety of subjects. Like many great books, it was greeted with some scepticism on publication.
“Crime and Punishment is probably Dostoevsky’s most conventional novel. It’s effectively a sort of literary crime novel, and is in some ways quite typical of its time. It’s got a fascinating structure, where a full 80% of the novel comes after he’s committed the crime but before he reaches the punishment. So for the majority novel, you are in suspense and, despite the title, a part of you genuinely believes he might get away with it.” Read more...
The Best Fyodor Dostoevsky Books
Alex Christofi, Literary Scholar
“With Vasari, we begin thinking that artistic biography might matter. As much as we may want to resist the notion that biography is central to understanding art, it seems as though it is just inevitable – the life of the artist is an inevitable element in considering the art itself, as Vasari realised early on.” Read more...
Blake Gopnik, Art Historians, Critics & Curator
“It contains a tremendous amount of nonsense about what the ideal society would be like. But it is an unmissable book because of Socrates. He invented the method of doing and teaching philosophy that has never been improved on. His persistent questions forced people to spell out their beliefs more fully and precisely, often unearthing beliefs they hardly knew they had. He would then challenge them with counter-examples, putting pressure on beliefs by pointing out unwelcome consequences they had. This questioning is often both intimidating and liberating. Those of us who teach philosophy aim, not always successfully, for the liberation without the intimidation. Some of Socrates’s opponents in The Republic challenge him as to whether there is any reason to be moral, apart from social pressures. They use a simple but brilliant thought experiment. Would you have any reason to avoid wrongdoing if you had a ring that made you invisible, so there was no chance of getting caught? It is not the answers given to this and the other questions in the book, but the absolutely fundamental challenges of the questions themselves.” Read more...
The best books on Moral Philosophy
Jonathan Glover, Philosopher
Confucius (trans. Edward Slingerland)
“It’s not written by Confucius himself. It is more a collection of anecdotes of how he engaged his students, almost in dialogue form. And in them, he comes off as a very charming, humorous figure, not at all dogmatic and very modern. I think that’s partly why he’s been so influential. There’s this view that Confucius was a conformist, but that’s partly because of the way Confucianism has been misused throughout Chinese history…The Confucians are not in favour of conformity at all. Indeed one of the most famous sayings from the Analects is: ‘Exemplary persons should pursue harmony but not conformity.’ Harmony really is this idea that you have differences – explained by metaphors like: very tasty dishes composed of many different ingredients that are bland on their own but together they combine to form this delicious dish; or else music, where you have one instrument that sounds OK on its own but when it’s combined with other instruments it produces a beautiful harmony. Confucius himself, if you look at his model as an educator, very much encouraged a constant questioning and constant self-improvement and definitely not a conformist attitude to learning. Rather the opposite I’d say.” Read more...
Daniel A. Bell, Philosopher
“Newton’s a genius whose most obvious contribution to science was to formulate the laws of motion and of gravity and to come up with breakthrough theories about light, colour, vision and so on. But in the Queries to the Opticks he treats these questions as philosophical problems as much as scientific problems. He sees his work not simply as changing the way that scientific inquiry is going to happen for the next 300 years, but also the way that people think about what it means to be human.” Read more...
The best books on The Enlightenment
Sophie Gee, Literary Scholar
“Thucydides is the single best treatment of international relations, foreign policy and military affairs that exists. It is the best description of what life in a multipolar world is like, what politics and war are like for the units involved, of the basic realities of international relations. It has no single line.” Read more...
The best books on US Foreign Policy
Gideon Rose, International Relation