How to get free ebooks (on your Kindle or other e-reader)


Note: I first posted this in November 2009, but Google’s interface has since changed. Here’s an updated set of instructions that will let you easily get free ebooks–from Google and from Gutenberg.


I posted a few days ago about taking my Kindle on the road, lamenting that the device didn’t read epub files, the “free and open ebook standard.”

Well, as many Kindle users may already know, it’s not so hard to convert epub files into mobi files, which is what the Kindle wants.

I’m using caliber to do the conversion. It’s free, works on a Mac or a PC, and “seems to do a good job with epub but is slow & lame for PDF conversion,” according to my source, who prefers to rename mainless. That source also tried AutoKindle and Mobi Pocket Creator (both free), neither of which worked very well. He’s looking into Savory for PDF conversion.

How to get free epub books from Google books:

  • Click on “Advanced Search” (it’s under the “Search Books” button)
  • Under “Search” options, select “Full view only”
  • Fill out any other search criteria that will help you find what you’re looking for
  • Find the book you want
  • On the screen showing that book, in upper right hand corner click on ‘download’—there are usually a few formats to choose from, including epub and pdf.
  • Download the file, then use a program like caliber (which lives on your computer) to do the conversion to mobi (Kindle’s file format)
  • Hook your Kindle up to your computer (with the usb cord included with your purchase) and pull the converted file from your computer to your kindle.

Even as I take advantage of these free digital books, I know that Google’s drive to get all the world’s books online is problematic for authors and publishers. For more about the class action lawsuit against Google books, go to the Practical Nomad, then scroll down to ‘Articles by Edward Hasbrouck on other topics.’

Hasbrouck also has a good post on Amazon’s new Kindle for the PC.

Free books from Gutenburg

Gutenburg has a smaller selection than Google books (how could it compete with the “don’t be evil” empire?) but all the books you find there are free.


  • I search by Nicaragua in the title field.
  • greenPhoenixI get a few results, inlcuding Thomas Belt’s The Naturalist in Nicaragua, which just so happens to be one of the books I was looking for, ever since I read about it in William Allen’s Green Phoenix: restoring the Tropical Forest of Guanacaste, Costa Rica (wonderful book that makes natural history and political shenanigans read like a high-quality potboiler; I’d get it on the Kindle but it costs a whopping $28 just for the mobi file).
  • The Naturalist in Nicaragua (originally published in 1874), is available for download in a variety of formats, including epub, Mobi, and html.

Download it, covert it (or don’t), and Success! Now I have a classic of Nicaraguan travel and nature writing on my Kindle, perhaps to be hauled out on the 12-hour boat ride across Lake Cocibolco, from Isla Solentiname to Isla Ometepe.

  • By Shauna Roberts, November 18, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    Thanks for posting these easy instructions. I’ll use them often.

  • By Stephen, November 21, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    Just read this comment in an Alternet discussion about the Kindle:


    Kindle is the best thing that ever happened to me

    Posted by: annieb on Nov 17, 2009 1:19 AM

    The e-reader is the future, and to cling to the paper book is to cling to the past. I am almost at the end of my second year owning a Kindle. With the addition of an SD card, I have 336 books on it. There is nothing like being able to look up a word or explore an interesting topic at the touch of a button. There is no substitute for finishing a thriller at 3:00 AM and having the sequel downloaded and ready to read within 10 seconds. Someday soon most authors will publish their own e-books without intermediaries and e-readers will be ubiquitous. I can’t wait!

    Question to Erin: When will your pub issue an eBook of LAICR?

  • By Erin Van Rheenen, November 22, 2009 @ 6:25 am

    Thanks for the post, Stephen. As for annib posting that the Kindle is the best thing that ever happened to her, well, I can only offer my condolences. But seriously, the Kindle is great in some ways–carrying a big ‘stack’ of research books in a thin little package comes to mind–but it has huge drawbacks, especially if you’re trying to use a guidebook on one (I’ll post on that later). And the lack of selection in the Kindle bookstore is a bit crippling if your tastes tend towards the non-mainstream.

    As for when Living Abroad in Costa Rica will be available for Kindle download–it already is!

  • By coose ettl, April 23, 2013 @ 12:39 am

    I like riding on trains stricle because of the metal clashing around together.

Other Links to this Post

  1. How to get free e-books for your Kindle | Travel Writers News — November 18, 2009 @ 3:02 pm