Focus on free #3: Internet Sacred Text Archive

Focus on #3: Internet Sacred Text Archive

This is the third in a series of posts that highlight a place to get free e-books.  You can find articles in that series here.

There are all kinds of specialty bookstores: mystery, science fiction, cookbooks, and so on.  The odds are pretty good that a large city will have at least one “occult” or “paranormal” bookstore.  Bible stores are also common.

The internet has a site like that for free e-books.  It’s called the Internet Sacred Text Archive.

It’s been online for over ten years.

Now, before you surf off to find another romance of teen vampire novel, let me point out that this site may be more diverse than you expect.

Sure, you can get the Bible here.  Yes, you can get the Bhagavad Gita (in English or Sanskrit).

As is pointed out in the intentionally amusing FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions),

“Not everything at this site is a sacred text in the strict sense.”

Um, yes.   For example, they have books on UFOs, the Iliad…even fiction, including the works of Lord Dunsany.  Some people may treat The Lord of the Rings like it’s a religion, and there is even a category for Tolkien.

That brings up an important point, though.  Almost everything here is in the public domain…Lord of the Rings is not.   They are clear about that…you won’t get something (probably) thinking it is something else.  The Tolkien section contains works that probably influenced Tolkien.

Here is their set of topics:

  • African
  • Age of Reason
  • Alchemy
  • Americana
  • Ancient Near East
  • Astrology
  • Asia
  • Atlantis
  • Australia
  • Basque
  • Baha’i
  • Bible
  • Book of Shadows
  • Buddhism
  • Celtic
  • Christianity
  • Classics
  • Comparative
  • Confucianism
  • DNA
  • Earth Mysteries
  • Egyptian
  • England
  • Esoteric/Occult
  • Evil
  • Fortean
  • Freemasonry
  • Gothic
  • Gnosticism
  • Grimoires
  • Hinduism
  • I Ching
  • Islam
  • Icelandic
  • Jainism
  • Journals
  • Judaism
  • Legends/Sagas
  • Legendary Creatures
  • LGBT
  • Miscellaneous
  • Mormonism
  • Mysticism
  • Native American
  • Necronomicon
  • New Thought
  • Neopaganism/Wicca
  • Nostradamus
  • Oahspe
  • Pacific
  • Paleolithic
  • Parapsychology
  • Philosophy
  • Piri Re’is Map
  • Prophecy
  • Roma
  • Sacred Books of the East
  • Sacred Sexuality
  • Shakespeare
  • Shamanism
  • Shinto
  • Symbolism
  • Sikhism
  • Sub Rosa
  • Swedenborg
  • Tantra
  • Taoism
  • Tarot
  • Thelema
  • Theosophy
  • Time
  • Tolkien
  • UFOs
  • Utopia
  • Women
  • Wisdom of the East
  • Zoroastrianism

Looking at that list, don’t you love that there is a “Miscellaneous” category?  😉

There are a lot of interesting titles…some may be familiar to you, many won’t.  From Shakespeare, to J.B. Rhine, to Madame Blavatsky, to UFO classics by Edward Ruppelt and Donald Keyhoe, this practically defines eclectic. 

In a traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore, some of these would be in Religion, some would be in Occult (or New Age), some would be in Philosophy, some would be in Fiction.

Here’s a key thing.

A lot of people sort of assume that all of the free e-books on the web were taken from Project Gutenberg.  Certainly, that site is the source of a lot of material…they’ve been digitizing e-books for a long time.  Since the books are in the public domain (generally, no longer under copyright protection), that’s legal to do.  It’s also sort of the point of Project Gutenberg…to make information available.

ISTA has a lot of books that aren’t at PG.  J.B. (John Bruno) Hare, who runs the site, can be credited for a lot of the work of digitizing the books, although the site nicely lists several volunteers who have contributed time and effort to making these texts available.

Some come from other internet sources as well, but if you are looking for something different, this site is a good bet.

Kindle friendliness

Unfortunately, this is not the most Kindle friendly site, although it can certainly be used effectively with your Kindle (I have).

Some of the books are available in the Kindle store, and there will be links to those.  When you get the books that way, though, they won’t be free…publishers using the Digital Text Platform (DTP) aren’t allowed to make them free.

You typically have a few choices. 

You can read the book online.  That’s nice at lunch at work, but it’s never really caught on.  When you don’t download a file, you don’t have that much control over it.  For technical reasons, they also break the online experience into separate pages for separate chapters.   That means you can’t search a book that easily (although the site does have a search).  If you know what you want, you can search through all the texts, and it’s quite quick. Limiting it to one book is harder.

More people may read books online with the advent of the iPad.  At least, that will make it simpler to carry around a fairly large web portal.

Another option is to download the book.  What you typically will download is a text file (no pictures, which you will have online).  Once you download the text, you can put it into your Kindle’s documents folder (see this earlier post).  However, and this is important, you will be downloading a zipped file, and you’ll need to unzip it first.  Many of you know about Winzip, but they use a different program called Gzip.  You can get a free unzipper here: 7-Zip at CNET.

A “zipped” file is one that has been compressed by removing things to make it smaller so you can download, share, and store it more easily.  While in the zipped form, it can’t be read easily by a human being.  The unzipper restores it its original format so a person can read it.  It’s sort of like condensed milk…just add water (but don’t actually use water). 😉

Once you unzip it, it will be a text file, which you can read on many EBRs, including the Kindle, nook (sic), and Sony.

The other big option is to buy a CD or DVD from the site, and then transfer those files.  That helps support the site, and makes things much easier.


Overall, this is a good site, with a sense of humor and of the public good (both things of which I approve).  It’s nice to have books which aren’t available everywhere else.  It could be a bit technically easier to use, but isn’t beyond a somewhat sophisticated computer user.  The adventurous reader can find some real hidden treasures here.

I’m going to leave the last word to the the last line of the well-written FAQ:

Q: What about the quiz?
A: There is no quiz. Nor is there any cake.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


5 Responses to “Focus on free #3: Internet Sacred Text Archive”

  1. the ArtWench Says:

    Thank you so much sharing this phenomenal site! I found some texts on there for which I had been seeking a copy for years! Yeah, I am a religious studies geek and love the old apologetics!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      ArtWench, that’s great!

      Yes, I love that about the site…you’ll find things there you won’t find anywhere else. They may not have the market of the New York Times Bestsellers 😉 , but there’s a real passion for many of these titles.

      I’m really glad you let me know! I wasn’t sure if this post would find the people who would appreciate it the most…I’m happy it found at least one of them. 🙂

      • the ArtWench Says:

        Well, I definitely appreciate your posts dealing with the classics, histories, and religious texts. I am sure that I represents tons of others who just don’t have the time or the moxie to comment. Often, I will read your blog on my Kindle and not be in a place convenient to replying. So, please rest assured, you definitely are reaching your audience! I’m just thrilled to have found someone who has the time, energy, & connections to dig up this great stuff!

  2. apple ipad Says:

    Came across your blog when I was searching yahoo I have found the bit of info that

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