1. The Internet Archive has 7 million books, including nearly 4 million modern books still in copyright. You can use all of them for free. See our Post on How to Search Internet Archive.
See “How to Find Free Books Online“, here on Century Past.
Books on the Century Past that are still in copyright (most of the books published since the mid-1920s), are actually hosted at the Internet Archive. That site acts as a lending library for in-copyright books, where you can legally borrow them.
1. All books at Century Past are actually from the archives of other free, legal, major internet sites. Century Past has links to those books.
2. Virtually all Century Past books still in copyright (published since the mid-1920s) are at the Internet Archive. You can read them all online, checking them out for one hour at a time. About one-quarter of their books (1 million books) can be borrowed for 14 days. See Internet Archive instructions for downloading their books.
3. Books no longer protected by copyright can be downloaded in various formats at their Internet Archive page.
4. To download books to a phone or tablet, also see the next Q&A.
PDF is usually the best choice. Your device will need a pdf reader app. There are several free versions available, which you can find with a search online.
1. Books still in copyright on Century Past that are available to borrow are at Internet Archive. See their borrowing instructions.
2. You will need an Android or iOS app for your device compatible with the Internet Archive’s DRM software. In addition to apps suggested by Internet Archive, consider the PocketBook Reader app, which seems more functional than the others. One benefit is that you can turn your phone sideways to read wide books easier.
Kindles can usually not be used for reading scanned books without modification. E-readers other than Kindle may be fine if they can read PDF files. Also, you can read our books on any computer or phone.
The most convenient device is probably a small laptop or a tablet. If you buy a tablet, I think the larger size (10- or 11-inch long screen) may be preferable for reading scanned books. An inexpensive tablet should work fine, as reading PDF files does not require much computing power.
1. When you have the book open in Internet Archive, click the one-page view button at the bottom right corner of the screen, and then keep zooming in to make the type large and clear. That one-page view also enables scroll-down.
2. Note the icon with three dots in a circle at the left edge of the book window (in Internet Archive). Use it to open a screen that allows you to adjust brightness and contrast.
3. You can read Internet Archive books in Adobe Digital Editions if you prefer. There is guidance here.
The Internet Archive was sued by several publishers and writers in Hachette v. Internet Archive, and in August 2023 the court ruled against Internet Archive. Internet Archive was ordered to remove from lending any books that are commercially available in electronic format.
The Internet Archive is appealing the ruling, and has strong legal justification for winning. However, an appeals court ruling is not expected until Winter of 2024-25.
To see only the books that are now available to borrow in an Internet Archive “collection” (search results), go to the left column and under “Availability”, click the box for “Lending Library”.
It is correct that most collections don’t contain many books published before the 1920s. However, Internet Archive has many public domain books, and you can easily find them, read them online, or download them. Here’s how:
1. Find a collection on Century Past for the subject you’re interested in, and click to open it.
2. Near the top of the Internet Archive page for the collection (search results), you’ll find a “Search” entry line with “collection:(internetarchivebooks) AND subject:(Your subject). “internetarchivebooks” may be in quotes instead of parenthesis.
3. Delete “collection:(internetarchivebooks) AND”, leaving just “subject:(Your subject) on that line. Click GO.
4. The Internet Archive page will search again, and include in the results both modern and old books (and often non-book resources).
5. You can then use the “Year” box in the left column to select one or more years of publication to view, to reduce the number of books you need to to sort through.
Updated: January 13, 2024