Most of us will remember the first time we had our eyes opened by To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee's compelling coming-of-age classic set in the Depression-era Deep South. And now the adventures of Scout Finch and co. are opening up to a whole new generation of readers, thanks to its release as an ebook for the very first time on its 54th anniversary.
The audio version, read by Oscar winning actress Sissy Spacek, is also available to download, in a digital move that has "amazed and humbled" 88-year-old author Harper Lee.
Although Mockingbird is actually priced at £3.28, the internet is positively bursting at the seams with other stellar reads for your Kindle that are completely free. So if you're feeling the crunch after investing in a snazzy new e-reader, fear not. Here we round-up our top 50 free books to download so that you can furnish your electronic library without spending a penny. Read on to find out what our current favourites are...
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Words: Dipal Acharya, image credit: Rex Features
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Harper Lee's classic coming-of-age tale is available on ebook for the first time ever today, to mark its 54th anniversary. Originally published in 1960, this compelling story of racism, justice and loss of innocence set in the Deep South has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
"I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long," said Nelle Harper Lee. "I’m still old fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. This is Mockingbird for a new generation."
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Challenged by Lord Byron and her husband Percy Shelley to see who could write the best horror story, this was Mary Shelley’s response. It was published when she was only 21 and describes the tragic consequences which occur when the eponymous doctor creates a living creature through a highly unorthodox scientific experiment. Gothic, romantic, science fiction – call it what you will, it makes for a gripping read.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
Originally published in serial form in one of Dickens' own weekly periodicals, the novel is a classic Victorian coming-of-age tale and contains some of the author’s most memorable characters. It tells the story of Pip, the orphaned protagonist, whose chance meeting with the escaped convict Magwitch changes his life forever.
Emma by Jane Austen (1815)
Clever and witty, Emma Woodhouse can’t help getting involved in the love lives of those around her. A wannabe matchmaker, her schemes have the tendency to go awry. A lively romantic comedy from Austen with a strong, young female protagonist.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
A towering achievement of American fiction, Moby Dick describes the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod commanded by Captain Ahab. Ahab’s destructive obsession with hunting down the ferocious eponymous whale is told through Melville’s highly stylized prose and is a fine examination of good and evil.
Howard's End by E.M. Forster (1910)
One of Forster’s most famous novels, and the subject of a classic Merchant Ivory film adaptation, the book tells the story of the interaction between rich capitalists - the Wilcoxes and the Schlegel siblings - and a lower middle class couple, the Basts. All have different outlooks on life but must find a way to connect.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
Ebenezer Scrooge, sour and stingy, is the character we love to hate. Dickens’ famous novella, which has never been out of print, includes a trinity of ghosts (Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come) who combine to show Scrooge the joy of the festive period and what will happen if he does not mend his miserly ways.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1847)
A biting satire on high society in 19th Century England, this novel is not just concerned with greed, idleness and snobbery but also the deceit and hypocrisy of the characters who try to mask such human weaknesses. Thackeray’s bleak depiction of society’s unhealthy attachment to worldly things still makes for a riveting read, especially in light of our current economic woes.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)
Sewell died just five months after Black Beauty was released and well before it became one of the best-selling books of all time. Told from the perspective of the eponymous horse, the novel is packed full of moral lessons about kindness to animals and human sympathy making it perfect for younger and older readers alike.
The Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum (1900)
One of the most famous children’s novels ever written, and the subject of a famous cinematic adaptation starring Judy Garland, the story chronicles the adventures of young Dorothy in the wonderful Land of Oz after her wish to be swept away from her Kansas home in a storm. Full of complex, magical characters and the frightening spectre of the Wicked Witch, this remains a fantastic tale.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
First published in two volumes, the novel follows the lives of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March) during and after the American Civil War and strongly resembles the author’s own childhood experiences with her siblings growing up in Massachusetts. Alcott focuses on domestic life and love in this family drama in which each women has a strong identity of her own.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Adapted for TV and film on numerous occasions, the original novel still remains the best version of this classic love story between Elizabeth Bennet and the dashing Mr Darcy. Austen’s sharp observation and neat social comedy provide a wonderful insight into matters of manners and marriage in the 19th Century.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
In Emily Bronte’s only published novel, the passionate but ultimately doomed union between Cathy and Heathcliff that is at the centre of the book remains one of the most loved in all literature. Their unresolved passion eventually has a destructive influence not only on themselves but also the people around them. The stunning, poetic description of the Yorkshire countryside combines with a stark depiction of mental and physical cruelty to produce a classic of English fiction.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1893-4)
A collection of stories by the English Nobel laureate whose popularity was cemented by the famous Disney animated film. The original includes a series of fables, including those centred on the abandoned ‘man-cub’ Mowgli who is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. Full of fantastic characters, including the terrifying tiger Shere Khan and the wise wolf Akela, this is a brilliant collection.
Candide by Voltaire (1759)
A small book which packs a big punch, this novella is Voltaire’s satirical masterpiece. Indoctrinated by Pangloss in his philosophy of optimism, Candide witnesses and experiences a series of great hardships throughout the short book, including the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the Seven Years’ War, that lead to a slow and painful disillusionment that this isn’t the best of all possible worlds. A parody of other coming-of-age tales and the picaresque, the author throws scorn and ridicule on some fairly serious topics. Darkly humorous and a joy to read.
The Republic by Plato (380 BC)
This ancient Socratic dialogue discusses the definition of justice and the order and character of the just city-state, amongst other lofty subjects. One of Plato’s best-known works and immensely influential in the fields of both philosophy and political theory, it also deals with the proper role of philosophers and poetry in society.
Don Quixote by Cervantes (1605)
For many this is where the novel began. The mammoth tome is majestic and rambling, action-packed and discursive. It follows the adventures of Alonso Quijano, a Hidalgo who believes in a chivalric world which is fast disappearing. He sets out to revive it under the name of Don Quixote with the help of his squire, Sancho Panza, the witty, ironical farmer. The e-book edition should make this challenging novel more palatable for the ambitious reader.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)
Spanning the period between 1815 and the 1832 June rebellion this magisterial, sweeping novel focuses on the hardship and struggles of the ex-convict, Jean Valjean, and his journey towards redemption. The subject of a famous musical adaptation, Hugo’s novel contrasts the strong arm of the law with the gentle succour of grace. It also depicts a turbulent period in French history with style and rigour. A long but satisfying read.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1847)
Stoker’s original gothic horror in a romantic style has been superseded somewhat by the world of hammer horror and Hollywood. But this is where it all started. The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England and the battle led to defeat him by Professor Van Helsing and his team. A dark, atmospheric work which is best read in the sunlight.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
Another famous work immortalised by a Disney animation. The original, as we all know, tells the tale of Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated with a host of magical creatures, from a rabbit who is always late to a cat who is always smiling. A playful text for children, its extensive use of literary nonsense and the way it shifts logic and narrative structure has secured its popularity with adult readers too.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1895)
Oscar Wilde’s most widely known and performed play is a farcical comedy in which the two protagonists maintain alternate personae in order to escape the burdens of their social obligations in the city and the country respectively. Highly quotable, the play sparkles with witty one-liners and memorable characters, such as the indomitable Lady Bracknell. The original production was closed after just 86 performances as Wilde’s personal life started to catch up with him.
Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais (1532)
A connected series of five novels full of scatological humour, biting social satire and a good deal of violence. It is the story of two giants, a father (Gargantua) and his son (Pantagruel) which was censored as obscene when it was first published in 16th century France. The text abounds with clever wordplay and risqué, linguistic jokes which make it both a joy and a challenge to read.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
The journey of young Jane Eyre, from her childhood years right through to adulthood maintains a central position in the English canon. Jane’s own highly individualised voice dominates the novel and gives it a highly personal feel. The protagonist’s struggles through education and her difficult love affair with the mysterious Mr Rochester provide a deep exploration of sexuality, morality and identity in Victorian England.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
A rip-roaring adventure on the high seas, this action-packed novel features more pirates and buried treasure than you can shake a stick at. The novel is also the source of many of our most deeply held perceptions of pirates: one legged seamen, parrots and Long John Silver to name but a few. It has inspired sequels and cinematic adaptations galore and continues to be great bedtime reading.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
A collection of 12 short stories featuring Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective for whom no case is too complicated or unsolvable. It includes A Scandal in Bohemia, the first of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories and A Case of Identity among others. A fine companion to the longer novels, this is a must read for fans of the recent film and TV adaptations.
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
Following the success of the small screen adaption of Parade’s End (a tetralogy of novels), Ford may not yet be a household name but his star is certainly in the ascendant. This is considered his best work, and depicts the tragedy of a soldier and his seemingly perfect marriage. Told through a series of non-chronological flashbacks by an unreliable narrator it represents an early example of modernism.
Aesop's Fables (620 BC)
The Tortoise and the Hare, The Old Woman and the Doctor and The Cat and the Mice are just some of the famous fables in this wonderful collection, all replete with their own moral lessons. Offering no single, uniform moral standard there are plenty of stories here to dip in and out of, although whether Aesop did actually write all of them is a hot topic of debate in academic circles.
Prometheus by Aeschylus (500 BC)
Not exactly light reading, this Greek tragedy is based on the myth of Prometheus, a Titan who was punished by the father of the Gods, Zeus, for granting mankind the gift of fire. The protagonist is chained against a rocky mountain for the duration of the play, as the battle of wills between him and Zeus portray the conflict between tyranny and friendship and between thought and force.
Plays by Anton Chekhov (1887)
This brilliant collection contains some of Chekhov’s best loved dramatic works, including The Cherry Orchard, The Sisters and Uncle Vanya. A practicing doctor throughout most of his literary career, Chekhov was also a fine short story writer whose formal innovations greatly influence the evolution of that genre.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
The adventures of young d’Artagnan, who leaves home to travel to Paris and join the Musketeers of the Guard (including Athos, Prothos and Aramis), has been a rich source of material for Hollywood and beyond. Exciting and thrilling in equal measure, it also portrays the machinations and manipulations of French court life. The author himself was a practicing fencer – no wonder the fight scenes are so good!
The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling (1888)
This short novella centres on two British adventurers in British India who become kings of a remote part of Afghanistan. Inspired by the real life tale of an Englishman who became the first white Rajah of Sarawak in Borneo, it incorporates numerous other factual and historical elements in this somewhat fantastic, audacious narrative.
Ulysses by James Joyce (1918)
This is arguably the finest achievement of Modernist literature in the English language. The novel chronicles the passage of an ordinary day in Dublin, 16 June 1904 (now celebrated annually as ‘Bloomsday’ in Dublin), from the perspective of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. Intricately based on Homer’s famous epic this huge work is divided into eighteen episodes, each with its own unique literary style and innovations. This is serious fiction at its most difficult but also at its most enjoyable.
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1899)
Following the abandonment of a ship in distress by its crew, a young seaman is publically censured for the action and the novel follows his attempts at reconciling the past with his current life. The tale is told through several viewpoints and in a non-chronological order, providing a detailed insight into Lord Jim’s internal psychological state.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
A humorous account of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford, this book was first intended as a piece of serious travel writing but the jokes soon put pay to that. Full of ageless witticisms and sharp observations, it remains well loved and well-thumbed even today.
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (1890)
Originally a flop when it premiered in Germany, this classic of dramatic realism was a sensation when it opened on Broadway 10 years later. Ibsen’s play is a tragic work focusing on the recent marriage of Gabler and her young academic husband, Tesman, in which the eponymous female protagonist has at turns been portrayed as an idealistic heroine, a victim of circumstance and even a manipulative villain who knows exactly what she is doing.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1914)
This is a semi-autobiographical by Joyce first serialized in The Egoist. It describes the formative years of the life of Stephen Dedalus, one of the central characters in Joyce’s magnum opus, Ulysses. It portrays his rebellion against the Catholic and Irish conventions within which he has been raised and his flight abroad in an attempt to pursue his ambitions as an artist. Seen by many as a minor masterpiece in Modernist technique, this is a must-read companion to Joyce’s longer work.
The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde (1888)
A collection of stories for children containing The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose, The Selfish Giant, The Devoted Friend and The Remarkable Rocket. The title story describes the chance meeting of a swallow with the soul of the Happy Prince, who in reality has never experienced true happiness. Imaginative and inventive at every turn, this is vintage Wilde.
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)
Based largely on the life of the spy, Mr Verloc, and set in London in 1886, this represents a departure for Conrad from his novels set on ships. Verloc is tasked by his superiors with destroying Greenwich using a bomb. There is a strong depiction of anarchist and revolutionary groups which is particularly resonant in modern times.
Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence (1913)
Considered by many as Lawrence’s first masterpiece, the novel describes the story of a young budding artist, Paul Morel, growing up in a working class family in a mining community in Nottinghamshire who leaves home for a job in London. It is an intense study of family, class and early sexual relationships and is particularly distinctive for the author’s use of the Nottinghamshire dialect spoken by several of the characters.
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (1879)
Intensely critical of marital conventions of the 19th century, this is yet another controversial Ibsen play of its time. Often claimed by the women’s rights movement as a piece of propaganda in their favour, Ibsen was quick to disassociate himself from any such interpretation. The play explores the difficult choices open to a woman in an unhappy marriage.
Poems by Emily Dickinson
Dickinson did not publish extensively when she was alive and lived largely as an eccentric recluse in her family’s house in Amherst, but she was a prolific poet. This collection brings together some of her best work in her inimitable style – short lines, typically without titles and with the use of unconventional punctuation and grammar. Many of the poems deal with issues surrounding death and immortality.
Three Lives by Gertrude Stein (1909)
Separated into three independent stories, all set in the fictional town of Bridgepoint, The Good Anna, Melanctha and The Gentle Lena, this was Stein’s first published work. Stein herself was a poet, writer and art collector who spent most of her life in France and interacted with almost all of the artistic and literary heavyweights of her day.
Faust by Goethe (1808)
A massive text of German literature based on a famous legend, Goethe originally published his play in two parts. It of course tells the tale of the polymath, Faust, who turns to magic as the source of infinite knowledge and is finally tempted by the devil Mephistopheles (who has made a bet with God) to sell his soul to the devil with tragic consequences.
Dream Psychology Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
This academic treatise is a fine introduction to Freud’s famous conception of how dreams play an essential role in understanding our own subconscious and psychoanalytic tendencies. This book describes some of his developments and investigations, and is perfect for newcomers to psychoanalysis.
Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac (1835)
A shining example of Balzac’s exacting realist style, with the use of minute details to develop character and create subtext, the novel takes place during the Bourbon Restoration and describes the struggles by individuals to secure a higher social status. Set in Paris, it follows the intertwined lives of three characters including the elderly Goriot of the title.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
The well known tale of the orphan who endures a dire existence in a workhouse before escaping to London and innocently joining a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin. An honest and uncompromising look at London’s criminal underworld and the squalor in which they lived, the book itself brought various contemporary political and social problems into acute focus. A dark Victorian thriller.
The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov (1899)
A superb collection by one of the masters of the short story genre which includes A Doctor’s Visit and The Husband, among others. The title story recounts an affair between a Russian banker and a young lady he meets while vacationing in Yalta. Chekhov’s mature style often precludes easy moral resolution to his stories but this makes them rich and complex. A pleasure to read.
Flappers and Philosophers by F Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
The first collection of short stories written by Fitzgerald, which includes some of his best work in this format such as Bernice Bobs Her Hair, The Ice Palace and The Cut-Glass Bowel among other gems. Many of the themes explored in his later novels, including the passage of time and forlorn love, find their first expression in these stories.
The Iliad by Homer (800 BC)
This epic poem, set during the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a collation of Greek states, recounts the wrath of Achilles after his quarrel with King Agamemnon. Among one of the oldest extant works of Western literature, The Iliad also represents the foundation of much of what came after it. Written in dactylic hexameters it is a long and difficult poem, but well worth the effort.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)
A classic tale about an imaginative and mischievous young boy growing up in the Mississippi River town of St Petersburg. Tom begins the novel immature and care free but as it progresses there are signs of his increasing maturity, competence and moral integrity. Twain shows that social authority does not always operate on wise, sound, or consistent principles and that institutions can fall prey to the same kinds of mistakes that individuals do.