If you buy an item via this post, we may get a small affiliate fee. Details.
To enjoy reading books, you don’t need a tablet or e-reader. You can read entire books online, completely legally, in an internet browser on your computer. The most popular sites are listed below.
The internet is the ultimate tool for finding answers and items we need. With a vast majority of products available from online stores, you don’t have to leave home to get anything that’s on your wishlist, including books, movies, games or audiobooks.
The best thing is that you don’t have to wait for delivery. Most books are digitized and it means you can start enjoying them in a matter of seconds. It’s just a matter of finding the most convenient – and fully legal – online source of books to read.
World’s most beloved classics are available online for free. They are the so-called public domain books. They are free because their intellectual property rights have expired, and everyone is entitled not only to download and read them but also remix and reshare.
Institutions like Project Gutenberg or Internet Archive digitize public domain books and make them available for free through their online catalogs.
Unless you are determined to create a stunningly large personal collection of ebooks, you don’t have to deal with copying and converting files. You can read books the moment you find them in one of the sites listed below.
But what “read books online” means exactly? It means you won’t need any of these:
- A dedicated device, such as a Kindle e-reader
- A tablet with a book reading app installed
- An ebook reader application on your computer
- An extension for your internet browser
All you need is a computer connected to the internet and the internet browser of your choice, such as Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.
When it comes to paid books (and it doesn’t matter whether you want to buy a print or ebook version), free book previews are a standard feature offered by many online bookstores, including Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
The free previews account for approximately 15% of the paid book. It’s long enough to make a decision whether to order a book or not.
The sites listed below are the ones where you can read books online from the first to the last page. In the detailed descriptions, we have included a choice of titles and tips how to improve the reading experience.
Read full books online – here are 12 best sites
1. Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is a mother of all ebook sites. It started in 1971, when the world’s first ebook was created by Michael S. Hart. It was “Declaration of Independence of the United States of America,” and you can read it right away in a next tab of your internet browser.
Many sites that offer free ebooks from the public domain use the titles created and uploaded to Project Gutenberg.
Currently, there are over 60,000 public domain books in the catalog. If you’re looking for great classic books, Project Gutenberg is the best destination to explore.
To read the book in your browser, simply click “Read this book online: HTML” option on the list of available formats.
The option to read the book online displays all elements of a book. You will be able to see the original cover of the book, as well as illustrations inside. You can also navigate the book easily using the table of content or click on hyperlinks inside the file.
There is one more benefit of a html file opened in a browser. This file is searchable. You can use your browser’s find tool to search for words inside the book.
You can start exploring Project Gutenberg from the list of the most popular ebook downloads. The world’s most loved and adored books are here: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, works by Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain’s A Tale of Two Cities, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. And it’s just the beginning!
2. Internet Archive
Internet Archive, founded in 1996, is a non-profit organization offering free access to digital or digitized content: books, images, videos, or audio files.
The catalog includes over 25,000,000 fully accessible books and other text files. From here, you can also start browsing a collection of 1.3 million contemporary ebooks that you will be able to borrow for free once you register an account. The ebook section can be reached at: archive.org/details/texts.
Use the search box in the top right corner to find the book. By default, the list of results shows collection from popular libraries. You can sort the results by relevance, views, title, and the date of adding the item to the catalog.
You can use the tools on the left side to narrow down the list of results by collection, media type, availability (free or to borrow), language, or creator.
To start reading, just click on the arrows in the bottom bar of the image of the opened book. You can enter full screen by clicking on the full-screen toggle in the bottom right.
The online viewer presents the scanned pages of the book, what brings an extra flavor to reading. There are many ways to go through the content of the book, including one-page view, and zooming.
One thing to keep in mind is that the content of the book is fully searchable, let not the scan mislead you. Use the search bar in the top right corner to find a word. All found instances will be marked in the progress bar at the bottom.
One of the most amazing things on Internet Archive is the text-to-speech function. You can turn it on by clicking on the speaker icon in the bottom right corner of the book viewer.
What’s worth highlighting is that the Internet Archive hosts a vast number of foreign-language books. There are over 20 languages with the number of published text works exceeding 1,000 each.
3. Open Library
Open Library is Internet Archive’s separate project, focused on collecting library records. Its goal is to create one web page for every book ever published. On a page of a single book, you’ll find all its documented editions.
Compared to the Internet Archive, with its vast catalog and advanced search features, the Open Library website is simpler and more user-friendly, and you can find the books you need much quicker.
When you go to Classic Books section, you will find over 3 million books that are “accessible,” which means they are free to read online or download.
Once you find the book, you will immediately know whether you can read it online or not. Just look for the big blue “Read” button. When you hover open the headphones icon, you will be able to listen to the audio version.
Click on the Read icon and you will be redirected to a full-screen online reader on the Internet Archive website.
In the top right corner of the viewer, you will see an option to download the book, usually in either epub or pdf format.
Open Library is more than just a catalog of free classic books. It also shows contemporary books that are free to read if you decide to borrow them. To do that, you may need to register at Open Library or find the book in your local library using WorldCat or Library Link. Each library book is marked with a “Borrow” button instead of “Read.”
4. Google Books
A huge collection of books that Google has scanned and turned into viewable files is available on Google Books.
The homepage of Google Books at books.google.com is actually nothing more than a search box. To start exploring this vast library of digitized books, you have to type in something, for instance a name of your favorite classic author or a title of a book.
Not all books can be fully previewed online, but you can narrow search results to those that are.
To do that, in the upper bar click on “Any view.” From a drop-down list select “Free Google eBooks” to see only the books that can be read online from the very beginning to the very end.
Google Books gives also a chance to preview free samples of books that are not available in the public domain. To see a list of these books, select “Preview available” option from the “Any books” drop-down menu.
The free preview of a copyrighted title included in Google Books doesn’t have to be a first part of the book.
Let’s say a publisher sets a free preview to be 20% of a book. You can select a chapter in the middle and read 20% from now on. Or jump from page to page, if you want.
You’ll be able to preview the book until you reach the limit of free pages set by a publisher.
Smashwords is a leading online platform with ebooks from independent authors and publishers. There are currently over 500,000 from over 100,000 self-published authors.
Thousands of books are available for free download and online view. The total number is changing, but usually around 100,000 titles are available for free viewing.
Smashwords authors have an option to set up the length of a free preview. Many writers decide to let readers preview the entire book online.
To see which books are free to read in your internet browser, go to Smashwords’ catalog of free ebooks. Then, change the way entries are being displayed – from stacks to list. Do it by clicking the bullet list icon in the top right.
In the list view, look for “Online Reader” button displayed at the bottom of an entry, next to blue buttons with ebook formats.
There are several customization options to choose from. You can select a size (4 levels to choose from), and font face (Arial, Courier, Times, Verdana, Georgia). You can also personalize colors by setting up your own font and background.
Quite frankly, reading interface offered by Smashwords is not the strongest part of this great site. There is no full-screen view, for example. It would help a lot, as the book content window is very narrow.
ManyBooks offers free books in a clean and friendly interface. The site is ad supported but these ads are displayed usually at the bottom of the browser window and are not too disturbing.
Most books are sourced from Project Gutenberg and sites that offer books with a Creative Commons license.
In total, over 50 thousand books are available, all with nicely designed covers. Plus, each book is available in several file formats, a lot more than what you can find elsewhere.
Most importantly, each title from the ManyBooks catalog can be read in your internet browser.
After you find the book you want to read, go to this book’s details page and click on a large “Read Online” button.
The reading interface is very clean and nicely designed, although it takes some time to load it, especially when it comes with a book cover.
You can change the font size (4 levels), plus the site works well on mobile devices, so you can read books also in a browser on your tablet.
BookRix is a platform that offers books from self-published authors combined with free books from the public domain.
A catalog of free ebooks is an essential part of the website. On the top of a list, you will find the most popular categories, including literary fiction, fantasy, romance, thrillers, and young adult fiction.
When you enter any category, you will see books sorted by the popularity. On the top, you will see free books offered by contemporary authors.
Many classic titles from the public domain are also included in the BookRix directory of free ebooks. You will find them in the Fiction category.
When you find the book you want to read, click on its cover or title to enter the book details page. To open an online viewer, look for the “Read Book” button located next to the cover.
If you are looking for a site that loads quickly even when you have a slow connection speed, you should visit Authorama.
Created and maintained by Philipp Lenssen, this dead-simple website includes several dozen popular books from Project Gutenberg. You can find here books by Mary Shelley, Francis Bacon, Charles Dickens, Jerome K. Jerome (yes, Three Men in a Boat!), or Robert Louis Stevenson.
The front page is at the same time a simple table of content, sorted by the name of an author.
Clicking on a book title link will open a simple html viewer. The content of each book is divided into several parts to let data load as quickly as possible.
This site can be viewed also in a browser on a mobile phone.
Bookboon is an online platform focused on providing free and paid textbooks for students and businesses.
The site offers textbooks written by professors from the world’s top universities. There are over 1,000 books that are free to download, but to do that, you have to sign up. When you visor the site for the first time, choose “Sign up for free eBooks.” You can use your Google, Facebook, Linkedin credentials to quickly access the catalog of books.
You can find on Bookboon several interesting books from the following categories: engineering, IT & programming, economics & finance, career & study advice, marketing, strategy & management, or languages.
Each book can be downloaded in pdf format, but you can also open an online reading interface by clicking “Start Reading” button.
If you are a free member, you will see ads in the content of the books you read. The company claims ads take no more than 15% of the content.
It’s worth highlighting that Bookboon has the nicest online reading interface. It’s clean, very well designed, and uses 100% of the web browser window without switching to full-screen mode.
Wattpad is one of the most popular e-reading websites in the world. It connects over 80 million readers-writers who spend over 23 billion minutes a month engaged in original stories published directly on the platform.
The site offers and promotes paid stories, but a vast majority of content is free to enjoy – but only for registered users, so you have to sign up to get access.
Use the “Browse” tab next to the logo on the left to find favorite genres. You can choose from adventure, fan fiction, LGBT+, new adult, romance, short stories, urban, or werewolf.
After you select the book from a list of results and click on its cover, a pop-up window will appear. Click on an orange button saying “Read” to start enjoying the story.
Please note that the site is ad supported and the reading interface also displays ads.
11. Library of Congress
Did you know you can read the world’s beloved children’s classics on the Library of Congress website?
The digital collection Classic Books includes “only” about 60 titles, but they are the ones you can’t find anywhere else.
This catalog looks like a great idea to spend some time with your kids reading together the books in their original look and feel. The books are scanned and digitized beautifully and the interface looks gorgeous!
To start reading, simply click on a link “Read This Book Now” that’s located next to the book’s cover.
What would you like to start with? How about Humpty Dumpty, with extraordinary illustrations by W. W. Denslow? Or the original edition of The Jungle Book? You can read Peter Rabbit, The Rocket Book by Peter Newell, or one of the best stories from Hans Christian Andersen – The Snow Queen. Enjoy!
12. HathiTrust Library
HathiTrust Library is a large-scale collaborative repository of digital content from academic and research libraries, aggregating millions of books and texts from Google Books, Internet Archive or Library of Congress.
HathiTrust is like Google Books but much more user friendly. The front page includes a search box with advanced options. Make sure to check “Full-text” and “Full view only” options to see only the books that are ready to be opened in an online reading interface.
A surprisingly enjoyable way of exploring available books is to use Collections (you can choose this option in the top navigation bar).
When you find the book you want to read, simply click on the “Full View” link and the viewer will open immediately. You can dismiss the left sidebar to enter the full-screen mode. If you don’t see the “Full View” link, it means the book is not available for online reading.
• • •
We removed a comment system to increase your privacy and reduce distractions. If you’d like to discuss this article, we are waiting for you on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. You can also follow us on Google News.
Keep exploring. Here are other popular lists for book lovers: