God Bless Project Gutenberg

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This week’s Technologizer column on is about e-books–and how e-reading software for computers and smartphones lets you enjoy them without splurging on a Kindle, Nook, or other piece of specialized hardware. Writing it got me thinking about a fact I’d forgotten about: I started reading e-books back in the mid-1990s, before dedicated e-readers event existed.

The tomes I read back then had been digitized by Project Gutenberg, an extremely admirable non-profit enterprise that creates files from public-domain books, then distributes them as widely as possible. They’ve got everything from some of the greatest works of literature ever (here’s Huckleberry Finn and Wuthering Heights) to interesting curiosities (First Lessons in Geography). Everything’s available in plain-text versions so you don’t need to sweat file-format issues. (Versions with illustrations are also available.) (More on 5 E-Readers For 2011)

And I did mention that everything’s free, right?

I knew that Project Gutenberg was venerable, but I didn’t realize that it had been founded by Michael Hart at the University of Illinois in 1971–which qualifies as a visionary act, period. If you’re not familiar with the site and its good deeds, check it out; if, like me, you knew about it but haven’t visited recently, it’s well worth rediscovering.

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