Download Books For Free From Google Book Search

Google is now offering free, downloadable versions of public domain books that you can find in Google Book search. Unfortunately, there's no way to browse through a directory of books that are available. However, you can keyword search for them easily, sort of.

On the Google Book Search home page, you'll see two options below the search box. By default, "All books" is filled in. Change this to "Full view books." Now search for something you are interested in, Dante's Inferno, an example both the AP and Bloomberg cite in stories about the new feature.

When the results appear, click on one of the books that comes up, such as this one. Over on the right-hand side, in the column just below the title, you should see a "Download" button. That will let you download the book in PDF format.

Here's the problem. Some Full View books are full view for reading online but not for download, and Google doesn't make it easy to narrow in on only the downloadable ones. For example, here's a search for mars. Here's the first book listed. No downloadable option is offered.

Since Google seems to be making downloadable versions of anything that's out of copyright -- and since those are books published before 1923 in the US -- you might try an advanced search for books before that date.

For instance, here's a search for all books about Mars for the years 0 through 1922 (FYI, I did try to search for books older than 0 AD, but the system doesn't support negative/BC dates, as far as I can tell).

Overall, this is a nice feature to have. Next time I'm heading on a trip, I might try downloading some PDF books to read for the journey. But that leads me to improvements I want to make it easier to find good books:

  • Give me a Google Zeitgeist for book search, or something like Google Music Trends. I want to know what people are reading via Google Book Search. What's the most downloaded book and so on, especially in different categories?
  • Provide a "Downloadable Books" search option, in addition to Full View, so I know I'm absolutely only going to get back results that match what I'm looking for.
  • Give me better ranking of downloadable books. Somehow I think there are much better popular interest books that could be coming up tops for a search on [mars] than I was finding in my example above.

Looking for more info? From Google's help pages, Why is the Download button only available on some books? explains that only public domain books get the download option right now, and even some of those have yet to be enabled.

How can I find books that I can download?  explains briefly what I've already covered in more depth above, but that might expand over time.

What is a public domain work? explains what books Google considers to be in the public domain.

Google's not the only place offering electronic, downloadable books. Project Gutenberg is probably the best known long-standing site already doing this, and you can see some of the top titles here, similar to what I hope Google will do in the future.

That's also a handy way to see if Google offers some of the most popular titles that Project Gutenberg does. So far, the answer is no. I took this top ten list from Project Gutenberg:

  1. Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases by Grenville Kleiser (334)
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (250)
  3. Kamasutra by Vatsyayana (245)
  4. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci -- Complete by Leonardo da Vinci (244)
  5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (220)
  6. How to Speak and Write Correctly by Joseph Devlin (197)
  7. The Victorian Age in Literature by G. K. Chesterton (187)
  8. The Art of War by 6th cent. B.C. Sunzi (170)
  9. Ulysses by James Joyce (168)
  10. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (165)

I did quick searches using the Full View option along with the titles and author names. I couldn't find any of them available at Google for download.

Gary Price has also written about ebrary in the past that offers books for purchase and, I believe, some limited downloads for free. Last month, he also wrote of the World eBook Fair making 300,000 titles available for download. World eBook Library still offers links to these works, but you have to pay $9 per year for access to them. Wow, look at all those sci-fi books from Baen, including the alternative history work 1633 (I thought 1632 was great, 1633 OK and 1634, ugh!).

Watch ResourceShelf, as Gary's sure to post on alternatives to find downloadable books when he gets going later today. In the meantime, back when he was with us, his More Sources For Ebooks & Electronic Text post has a lot of resources you'll still find useful.

Google's also still apparently pondering sales of in-copyright works, with publisher permission, something that was floated by the company as an idea earlier this year. Amazon's also got similar plans in the works, but I don't recall seeing that having launched yet, despite its announcement nearly a year ago.

Finally, Google's also just offered a way for anyone to put a Google Book Search box on their site. Now you can add Google Book Search to your site from the official Google Book Search blog has more, as does this instruction page.

Postscript: For more resources on downloading books, see Gary Price's story here.

About the author

Danny Sullivan was the founder and editor of Search Engine Watch from June 1997 until November 2006.

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