Friday, April 03, 2015

A short tour of free books on the internet

When most people think of books, they think of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and B. Dalton Bookstores. Well, that last one isn't around anymore, but I can remember spending time there in the days of my youth. The point is, people tend to think of buying the books they read and holding them in their hands for reading. I used to be like that. The previous generation though, still prefers to buy a paper book and read it. I am a member of a family of prodigious readers. Literacy is our family legacy. I still like to read books, but now I read them on my computer.

The internet has given birth to something generations previous to mine had not seen before: free content. Not just a little free content. Tons of it. A simple search will yield treasuries of free books to read. The caveat is that these books are free because the marginal cost of reproduction is next to zero. Why? They are computer files, usually PDF files that can be viewed with Adobe Reader on Windows and Mac and Evince on Linux.

This is possible because Adobe had the good sense to make the PDF, the Portable Document Format an ISO standard, free for anyone to use. That means you can write a program that can create PDFs as long as the resulting file conforms to the standard. That is what makes the PDF reader, Evince, and many other programs like it, available for Linux.

In this tax season, it is worth noting that the US government makes all tax forms available as PDFs. You can search for and download a Form 1040 at www.irs.gov and print it yourself. Then you can fill it out by hand. That is just how pervasive PDF technology is.

PDF books are easy to find on the internet. One of the most popular sources is Project Guttenberg. Named after the man who invented the printing press, Project Guttenberg aims to be a worldwide repository of books that are free to download and share (if you're a Jane Austen fan, this is your lucky day). They offer a variety of formats to choose from, but the common feature among their books is that the copyright has expired on them. With 46,000 books to choose from, there is plenty of content to keep the avid reader busy.

Here are a few sources where the books are published under open licenses like the Creative Commons license or the public domain:

O'Reilly Open Books. If you want to learn programming and Linux, this is the place to go for free books.

Open Culture - A collection of 700 free ebooks you can read on any device.

The Library of Congress - Here you will find a treasure trove of books beyond copyright or just offered in the public domain.

Social Science Research Network - if you like reading scientific papers on human behavior, this is the place to go.

Along the way I've found a few very interesting titles, too:

Against Intellectual Monopoly - A fascinating read on the history and myths of intellectual property that promotes the abolition of all intellectual property with a particular emphasis on patents.

The End of Loser Liberalism - A treatise on the myth of the "free market" agenda of the conservative right and how liberals can expand the scope of the debate to bust the myth in political debate.

The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are - If you have ever read The Wisdom Of Insecurity by Alan Watts, this is the other book to read.

Free culture is where you find it on the internet because the internet is made for sharing of information. It is designed to route around damage. It is the pathway to a collective consciousness that can serve humanity. Use it wisely.
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