So this is always a fun topic to talk about, since I am all about snagging free PDFs for my own entertainment on the internet. I’ve split this into a couple of categories just for the sake of organization, since there are a lot of sites out there who specialize in providing different books. Enjoy!
General Book Sites
So my favorite free book site of all time would definitely have to be Project Gutenburg. This site is honestly amazing. It attempts to digitally catalog all books that have crossed into the public domain, so there are literally over 54,000 ebooks on here that one can access as a PDF, Google doc, or OneDrive document. This site especially comes in handy for out of print or rare books that aren’t available in the library. For instance, I’m a big fan of Victorian Gothic Vampire novels, and I wanted to read either The Vampyre by Polidori or Carmilla by Le Fanu the other day. Well guess what? Both of them are on Project Gutenburg! So yeah, definitely go check it out.
This next one is the tried and true favorite: Google Books. Google also has a campaign to try and digitize as many public domain books as possible, but they include scholarly texts and letters as well. For instance, a popular graphic novel currently out called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage was made possible because of the extensive research the author Sydney Padua was able to perform on Victorian correspondence concerning Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage on Google Books. Go technology!
Moving on, HathiTrust is another digital library with a really useful search engine. I think that they take a lot of their scans from Google Books, but hey, maybe it’s easier to find on HathiTrust. Alternatively, HathiTrust may have something Google Books doesn’t, since I believe they specifically focus on scholarly works. This one could be included in the scholarly links down below just as much as it is here, but whatever.
General Scholarly Book Sites
The next trick I’ve got in my box is a little site called Cambridge Companions. This one is great for general research since they let you download all of their books in PDF form if your school is a member (this means if your school isn’t, get a visitor pass at a university that does and download as many PDFs as you can while you’re there). They have companions for just about anything, but I usually use them for classics. Make sure you use the second search bar next to Cambridge Companions for the free stuff.
Classical Studies Book Sites
For anyone interested in research on fragments, Brill has published all of Jacoby’s Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker I-III on their website, and many universities with a classics department subscribe to this service (this is another school exclusive one, sorry guys). Basically, this is a critical edition for all authors whose works only exist today in fragmentary form, and the book includes commentaries and an apparatus criticus for each fragment.
Listen, if you’ve never heard of Perseus as a classics major, then you’re not doing classical studies right. This site looks like utter garbage, but it’s a treasure trove of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and public domain classical works that will make your little classics heart melt. For dictionaries, it uses Liddell and Scott’s Greek and Latin as a basis. They also have a word study tool you can use to figure out what part of speech or declension a word is, which I find particularly useful with translating poetry. In terms of available works, you just have to explore the site to see what I mean. Particular works I enjoy using are The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites and their collection of Cicero in Latin and English.
The best encyclopedia out there for the field of classics is definitely Brill’s Pauly. Brill has a version on their website for the New Pauly in English, but it’s another subscription based work where you need access to a subscribing library. On the other hand, if you happen to know German and don’t mind an older edition, the original Pauly is available for free on AWOL.
For classicists, nothing is better than the intimidating wall of green and red classical Loeb texts in a library. Unfortunately, they’re ridiculously expensive, so the internet had provided a way to download the older public domain editions of the texts at this site. If you’ve never used one (due to their expensive nature) just know that they’re worth the trouble to get. They contain critical editions of classical works from both Greek and Latin authors. If you’re interested in Sanskrit, there are also blue Loebs, but honestly who has time for that?
So there you have it. Happy hunting, guys!