Most popular public domain books
In the paper world, the odds weren’t good that a book would stay in print for ten years.
Of course, with the e-book world, there won’t be any real reasons for books to become unavailable (although it may happen sometimes).
For now, though, if a book is being read a hundred years after it was written, that says something. It can be surprising how modern some of these old classics can seem…but that isn’t necessary. Sometimes, the very fact that they are different, that the world smells and sounds different, is part of the attraction.
There are nearly 20,000 public domain books in the Kindle store (although there is a lot of duplication in that group).
What books are the most popular?
Please note that this information changes frequently, but if something is in the top ten or twenty, you can bet that a lot of people would recommend it to you…or, at least, to somebody.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Arthur Conan Doyle
The reasons behind this one’s popularity may seem obvious. For one thing, there was the recent Robert Downey, Jr. movie. However, there are many Sherlock Holmes books by Doyle: why this one?
Well, this is the set of short stories that really made Holmes popular at the end of the 19th Century. Holmes is at his most accessible in the short stories…they are often more fun and real mysteries, where as the first two novels are a bit heavier (with Holmes’ drug use, for example), and long tangents.
This one does have one of the more violent Holmes stories (The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb), but also some of the most popular ones, including A Scandal in Bohemia, which features Irene Adler (played by Rachel McAdams in the recent movie).
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
This story of relationships is approaching its two hundredth anniversary (2013), and was published well before Arthur Conan Doyle was even born. Clearly, people can still relate to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Keira Knightley was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth in a 2005 adaptation.
In an interesting, trend-starting book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith took the original novel and added new elements (including zombies). The book has spawned a sequel (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls…due March 24 in hardback, but no date yet for the Kindle), and a movie version starring Natalie Portman.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
by Benjamin Franklin
First published in French, this non-fiction book brings us the life of one of the most important figures in early American history. He was a writer, a scientist, and crucially, a diplomat. He brings a sense of humor about himself, and would probably be a popular figure if he was around today (which may not be able to be said about all of the “Founding Fathers”).
by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Actually, if they be Robert Louis Stevenson, they do. What ye think ye be knowing about pirates, may be owing a great deal to Treasure Island…
Sorry, it’s hard to avoid that “talk like a pirate” thing.
This book did introduce a lot of the popular conception of pirates, including parrots on the shoulder and treasure maps. It also brings us one of the great characters in what is essentially a children’s book, Long John Silver. He’s a more complex character than one commonly encounters in “kids’ books”.
by Jane Austen
Austen’s second book in the top ten is much lighter than Pride and Prejudice, considered by many a comedy.
Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know
by Hamilton Wright Mabie
While uncredited in the Kindle store, Mabie writes a long introduction to this selection of fairy tales from various sources. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson, and the Arabian Nights, and Charles Perrault are all represented.
You’ll find many familiar tales, but don’t expect the Disney versions.
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
Austen’s third (!) novel in the top ten shows that she is one of the most beloved authors in the English language. Sense and Sensibility is the story of the Dashwood sisters, and how they have to balance logic and emotion…even almost two hundred years later, that is still an issue in a lot of people’s lives. Expect to hear a lot more about this book as it hits its bicentennial next year.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
Wilde’s personal life sometimes overwhelms people’s knowledge of his writings. His ad lib wit was legendary, and the time he spent in jail, convicted of “gross indecency” with other men, may be what most people think of first.
However, in this novel, the story is frightening and rich. This is not a light and easy read, but beautifully crafted with a story as well. Movie versions sometimes simply set it up as a horror story, but it’s not like a monster movie…the “monster” is defined by the evil in a person rather than by claws and fangs.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne
Like any great science fiction novel, the characters are as important as the gadgets. Captain Nemo (who was popular enough to be brought back in later works), is a megalomaniac, a person who wants to change the world to make it more the way he thinks it should be. Arguably, he is a terrorist…he is literally trying to terrorize people into behaving the way he wants.
Many people know the story from the 1954 Disney version with James Mason, although that may not convey the political nature of the original novel very accurately. It does have a heckuva a giant squid fight, though.
War and Peace
People jokingly refer to the size of this book, and it is certainly an epic. Originally written in Russian, this book and others by Tolstoy (and other writers) make the Cyrillic character set one of the most requested for the Kindle. The novel is a thoroughly researched account of how the events leading up to the War of 1812 affect five families.
Well, that’s the top ten as I write this. All of them are free, by the way.
If you want some more suggestions, see this thread from the Amazon Kindle community.