You know what’s great? Getting a classic book for free. Thanks to the magic of the public domain, there are many books you can read for exactly $0 on bothand . These include reads from Plato to Peter Pan.
Everyone knows about Kindle, but Apple Books is a real star here. It has an extensive “books you’re meant to read” list, which is stacked with books you can download for free. Many of these are also free on Amazon, but some will cost you a couple of bucks (or maybe just a couple of cents). If you’re an Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you’ll have many, many more books to read for “free.”
There’s a big, wide world of cheap and no-cost books to be found on these platforms. Here are 17 classics to get you started.
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Little Women was a hit from the moment it was published in 1859, and got its latest moment in the sun thanks to. It’s a coming-of-age novel that follows four sisters into womanhood, and it’s been consistently successful over the last 150 years. Little Women was an acclaimed novel, and has been adapted into plays, films, operas and TV shows. You can see what the fuss is about for $0.
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Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
Here’s one for parents looking for something to read to their kids, or Disney enthusiasts wanting to read the play that inspired the novel that inspired the 1953 classic. Peter Pan, also published as Peter and Wendy, is the story of Neverland, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and the nefarious Captain Hook. A worthy disclaimer though: It contains portrayal of Native Americans that’s very… 1904.
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Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Like most classics, there’s a chance you may have suffered through Frankenstein during English classes in high school. We’ve all been there. Picking apart any book in school is enough to turn anyone off a book, but Frankenstein has always been an exception to me. Not only is Frankenstein seen as the first science-fiction novel, it’s also a timeless parable, one of the finest examples of gothic literature and a true product of the Romantic movement.
If that kind of thing doesn’t sell you, you can still laugh at Victor Frankenstein whining as he reaps what he sows.
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Dracula (Bram Stoker)
Another one for the Goths! If you’re a fan of our undead friends, it’s worth experiencing one of the books that started it all. The story is terrific for those after a good, suspenseful gothic horror. It’s easy to think that Dracula must be another hard-to-read classic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The writing holds up really well (after over 100 years, that’s quite a feat) and it’s genuinely spooky in parts.
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The Republic (Plato)
Greek philosophers are still harkened back to all these centuries later, which means they’re unlikely to fall out of style anytime soon. Plato is arguably the most famous Greek philosopher — next to Socrates and Aristotle — and The Republic is his most famous work. What’s most striking about much (though thankfully maybe not all) of ancient Greek writing is how relatable it is today.
Reading ancient Greek literature can also help you sound more pretentious at parties, which is nice.
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Dream Psychology (Sigmund Freud)
Sigmund Freud is one of those rare specialist academics who pierces into the zeitgeist. Oedipus complex, Freudian slips, id, ego and super-ego, and even the phrase “defense mechanism” are all related to Freud’s works. Unfortunately, many of those works are intensely academic and dense. At just 216 pages, Dream Psychology is one of Freud’s most notable works, and it’s also one of the easiest to read.
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The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)
There are plenty of long reads on this list, so here’s a short one. The Metamorphosis follows a man’s sudden and inexplicable transformation into a huge insect, and despite spanning less than 100 pages it has been the subject of rigorous psychological scrutiny and interpretation in the 116 years since it was first published.
Hamlet / Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare)
If you really want to challenge yourself, Shakespeare is the way to go. The language and format can take a while to get used to, but it’s richly rewarding once you do. There’s a play for everyone, for those who like romance, tragedy, comedy or even absolutely unhinged fantasy. Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet are among the most famous, so they would be good places to start. Almost everyone is at least a little familiar with the stories — and trust us, familiarity with the plot helps a lot if you’re new to Shakespeare.
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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Sherlock Holmes was cool way before Robert Downey Jr. played him on the silver screen. This collection of stories was published over 120 years ago, but mysteries have a timeless quality to them: Intrigue doesn’t die with age. Sherlock Holmes may not be the most important book on this list, but it might be the most fun.
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Pride and Prejudice / Emma (Jane Austen)
We know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t Jane Austen just be a more wordy and boring? What are they saying? What is even happening? And yes, Jane Austen books can feel very daunting and almost bland when you look at them through a modern lens. Reading Austen books, however, is like a cheeky window into the past: They parody Regency society and poke fun at how ridiculous some social mores were at the time. If you’re wanting to get started on Austen, we recommend going with Pride and Prejudice or Emma first.
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The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx)
Let us state straight up that including this isn’t an endorsement of communism. With that out of the way, The Communist Manifesto is among the most influential pieces of writing in the last few centuries. Written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it inspired a movement and philosophy that would ultimately take over half of Europe within a century of its 1848 publish date. It’s also much easier to read than Marx’s significantly more thorough work Capital, but that’s also available for free if you’re up to reading thousands of pages of 19th century economics.
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
There are several books that are known as “the great American novel” — Catcher in the Rye, Moby Dick and To Kill a Mockingbird among them. But perhaps the novel with greatest claim to the title is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain is regarded as America’s greatest humorist and he’s one of its most celebrated authors ever. Huckleberry Finn is the book he’s most known for and it’s a must-read for anyone wanting to familiarize themselves with American literature.
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Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
To be sure, Huck Finn isn’t the only great American novel you can read for free. Moby Dick gave the world the term “white whale,” as well as one of the most famous opening sentences. The book is 170 years old, but it remains a staple of “books you should read” lists everywhere.
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The Federalist Papers (Alexander Hamilton)
You may have first experienced these as extremely boring history class texts, buthas breathed new life into them. The Federalist Papers are a collection of essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (but mostly by Hamilton) in which the writers encourage the ratification of the US Constitution and also argue for a more centralized state. These will be dry for many, but worthwhile background for diehard fans of Hamilton the musical.
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War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
We’ve saved the biggest for last. War and Peace is a monster, so much so that its name has become a signal used to describe intimidatingly large pieces of work. And make no mistake, War and Peace is a lot to get through. But doing so will be to familiarize yourself with “the lion of Russian literature,” as the book has been called. If you’re up to the challenge, it’s free on Apple Books.
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