Almost 8 million ebooks were downloaded from Project Gutenberg in April 2020, over twice as many as a year ago. Two books that entered Top 20 are related to plagues.
Project Gutenberg is a leading source of free ebooks from the public domain (which means you can get them legally), and it turns out that many people were spending their time during the lockdown to download and read more books than ever.
The site provides useful stats about ebook downloads, Top 100 Ebooks This Month, where you can see the most popular titles based on how many times they were downloaded or read online. We used Wayback Machine to visit archived versions of this page and learn which books were most popular during the worst month of the coronavirus pandemic.
Project Gutenberg’s catalog of free ebooks contains over 60 thousand titles. In April 2020, they were downloaded 7,914,647 times! Compare it to the average number of 3 million. For instance, in April 2019, the total number of downloads was 3,249,936.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is all time most downloaded Project Gutenberg book. In April only, it was downloaded almost 66 thousand times. The books that are always on the list are Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.
When you analyze the list of Top 100 most downloaded ebooks, you see that two books were placed higher than usual. One is a collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe, which includes “Masque of the Red Death,” a short story following Prince Prospero’s attempts to avoid a dangerous plague, by hiding in his abbey. The book took the 2nd place in April, with over 60 thousand downloads.
A Journal of the Plague Year is a non-fiction piece by Daniel Defoe, which is a detailed account of the Great Plague of London in 1665. With 42 thousand downloads, the book was the 6th most popular free ebooks in Project Gutenberg in April 2020.
Project Gutenberg provides interesting charts that visualize top free downloads. The graph presenting downloads by file type clearly shows that the most popular format is html, which is being chosen by as many as two-thirds of users.
In practice, choosing html means that the file is being opened in a browser. It’s worth noting that a surprisingly high number of users still read ebooks online without the help of dedicated apps and devices.
The second most popular format is epub (13.5% of downloads), followed by “other formats” (over 6%). The mobi format, dedicated for Kindle apps and e-readers, takes the fourth place, with 5.8% of downloads.
How to download free ebooks from Project Gutenberg
You can download ebooks from Project Gutenberg to any e-reader or book-reading app. Just remember a simple rule regarding which file format to select:
- Download “mobi” format – for Kindle e-readers and apps (such as Kindle for iPad & iPhone or Kindle for Android-operated tablets and smartphones).
- Download “epub” format – for any other device and app – such as Apple Books app for iPad & iPhone, Kobo e-readers and apps, Nook, Google Play Books, and all e-readers.
You can have quick access to the content of each book by clicking “html” option. In fact, the html viewer is a way to read free books from Project Gutenberg online, on a computer, tablet, and even a smartphone (as the site is optimized for mobile devices).
There is no need to download any app or buy a dedicated device to start reading a great literary classic any time you have a few spare minutes.
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Most popular free ebooks
Top 20 most downloaded free ebooks during the coronavirus pandemic
Number of downloads between April 1 and 30, 2020, based on archived Project Gutenberg page.
1. Pride and Prejudice
Worth re-reading before you move on to Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The world’s beloved novel of manners is set in rural England at the beginning of the 19th century and follows the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and her love interest Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
When Darcy overcomes his pride and Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice, they surrender to their love for each other.
Number of downloads: 65,755
2. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven Edition
Edgar Allan Poe
This 5-volume edition of Edgar Allan Poe works contains famous short stories, Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, as well as the narrative poem The Raven.
Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, is also included.
Number of downloads: 60,534
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The novel is one of the most creative works of English-language fiction, loved by both children and adults. It tells a story of a young girl who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures.
Characters and imagery from Alice in Wonderland have been highly influential around the world, being an inspiration for endless works of pop culture.
Number of downloads: 49,850
Published in 1818, this famous classic novel follows a young scientist who creates a hideous sapient creature. The book combines elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement, and is considered one of the first true science-fiction stories.
Many people refer the name “Frankenstein” to the monster itself. Are you among them?
Number of downloads: 48,392
5. The Importance of Being Earnest
Wilde’s most popular play was first performed on Valentine’s Day 1895 at the St. James Theater in London.
This highly popular comedy of manners mocks Victorian traditions and social customs, the nature of marriage and the pursuit of love within the constraints of morality.
Number of downloads: 42,487
6. A Journal of the Plague Year
Initially presented as a work of nonfiction, the book is an account of one man’s experiences of the year 1665, during the Great Plague of London, the last epidemic of plague in that city.
Defoe goes to great pains to achieve an effect of verisimilitude, identifying specific neighborhoods, streets, and even houses affected by the bubonic plague.
Number of downloads: 42,282
7. Et dukkehjem (A Doll’s House)
A Doll’s House is an English translation of Ibsen’s popular three-act play which takes place in a Norwegian city in the 1870s.
The play deals with the fate of a married woman, Nora Helmer, who lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world, and eventually leaves her family at the end of the play.
Number of downloads: 37,033
8. The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This short story was fist published in 1892, and is regarded an important early work of feminist literature, dealing with the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women at that time.
The story is a collection of journal entries written by a young, upper-middle-class woman, probably called Jane, whose husband has rented an old mansion for the summer. Forgoing other rooms in the house, the couple moves into the upstairs nursery.
Number of downloads: 33,767
9. The Call of the Wild
The classic adventure novel is set in Yukon, Canada, during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush. The central character, a dog named Buck, is stolen from his home and sold into service as a sled dog.
Buck becomes progressively feral in the harsh environment, where he is forced to fight to survive and dominate other dogs.
Number of downloads: 33,691
10. A Modest Proposal
Swift’s satirical essay, published anonymously in 1729, suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies.
In English writing, the phrase “a modest proposal” is conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.
Number of downloads: 33,128
11. A Tale of Two Cities
First published in 1859, Dickens’ famous historical novel (and one of the best-selling novels of all time) is set in Paris and London before and during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror at the end of the 18th century.
We follow Doctor Manette during his 18-year imprisonment in the Bastille and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie.
Number of downloads: 31,839
In a 6,500-word dialogue (one of the shortest written by Plato), the titular Ion discusses with Socrates whether the rhapsode, a performer of poetry, gives his performance on account of his skill and knowledge or by virtue of divine possession.
Number of downloads: 31,817
13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson
A Gothic novella set in London in late 18th century. The story follows a legal practitioner Gabriel John Utterson, who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde.
The novella is an impactful and influential work about the interplay of good and evil. Since the publication in 1886, a phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” has been referring to people with an unpredictably dual nature.
Number of downloads: 30,838
14. Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson
One of the most frequently dramatized novels, Treasure Island was first published in 1883, and is noted for its atmosphere, characters, and action.
The novel’s influence on popular perception of pirates is enormous, with such elements as treasure maps, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen bearing parrots on their shoulders.
Number of downloads: 29,102
15. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle
From Project Gutenberg you can download an original collection of short stories about the world’s most famous detective.
First published in 1892, the book includes such stories as “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “A Case of Identity,” “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” and “The Five Orange Pips.” All stories had been published before in twelve monthly issues of The Strand Magazine, and are told in a first-person narrative from the point of view of Dr. Watson.
Number of downloads: 27,566
A dystopian fiction novella by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand takes place in the future when mankind has entered another Dark Age.
Technological advancement is now carefully planned and the concept of individuality has been eliminated. A young man known as Equality 7-2521 rebels by doing secret scientific research.
Number of downloads: 27,231
A classic novel by Herman Melville tells the story of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge on the giant white sperm whale that on the ship’s previous voyage bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee.
D. H. Lawrence called Moby-Dick “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written.”
Number of downloads: 26,566
18. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
This highly popular novel by Mark Twain is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The book starts in St. Petersburg, the fictional town in Missouri, where Huck and Tom have each come into a considerable sum of money as a result of their earlier adventures.
The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Set in a Southern antebellum society it is a satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.
Number of downloads: 26,533
19. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The first book from a series of stories about Tom Sawyer and his friend Huckleberry Finn was published in 1876, and is considered to be a masterpiece of American literature.
This lively tale of adventures of boyhood, set in St. Petersburg, Missouri, talks about racism, childhood, and the importance of loyalty and courage – no matter the cost.
Number of downloads: 26,494
20. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
Loosely based on the lives of Louisa May Alcott and her sisters, the novel follows four sisters and their mother living in a neighborhood in Massachusetts in genteel poverty. The author details their passage from childhood to womanhood.
In Little Women, Alcott created a new literary format, combining Romantic children’s fiction and with elements of sentimental novels.
Number of downloads: 25,447
All book covers: Wikimedia Commons.
Top 50 most downloaded ebooks – April 2020
Number of downloads between April 1 and 30, 2020.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (65755)
- The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven Edition by Edgar Allan Poe (60534)
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (49850)
- Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (48392)
- The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde (42487)
- A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (42282)
- Et dukkehjem. English by Henrik Ibsen (37033)
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (33767)
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London (33691)
- A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (33128)
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (31839)
- Ion by Plato (31817)
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (30838)
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (29102)
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (27566)
- Anthem by Ayn Rand (27231)
- Moby Dick; Or, The Whale by Herman Melville (26556)
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (26533)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (26494)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (25447)
- Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (23709)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (21444)
- Walden, and On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (20822)
- Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (20086)
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (20051)
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (19723)
- Emma by Jane Austen (19381)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (18429)
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (18208)
- War and Peace by graf Leo Tolstoy (18050)
- Jane Eyre: An Autobiography by Charlotte Brontë (18018)
- A Christmas Carol in Prose; Being a Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens (17855)
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (17600)
- The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio by Giovanni Boccaccio (16724)
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (16687)
- The Awakening, and Selected Short Stories by Kate Chopin (16536)
- Ulysses by James Joyce (16310)
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (16149)
- Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (15428)
- Il Principe. English by Niccolò Machiavelli (15090)
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (14947)
- Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem (14526)
- Dubliners by James Joyce (14340)
- The Memoirs, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson by Jefferson (14199)
- The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe (14163)
- The Count of Monte Cristo, Illustrated by Alexandre Dumas (14016)
- Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (13853)
- Index of Project Gutenberg Works on Black History by Various (13825)
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (13167)
- Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw (12996)
Don’t stop exploring. Here are other popular lists and tips:
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