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From The Beacon: Explore classics thanks to free e-books

I was sad to learn of the death of Michael S. Hart on Sept. 6. I knew him as a frequent contributor on Project Wombat (, a discussion list for difficult reference questions. Hart was also the inventor of the e-book and founder of Project Gutenberg, a project that provides e-books freely online.

The project started July 4, 1971, when Hart, inspired by a free copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, typed the text into a computer and transmitted it to others on his computer network. (Later that summer, on Aug. 26, Alden Library at Ohio University was the first library to catalog books electronically. As you can see, some of today's library technology is more than 40 years old.)

From that day on, Hart made it his mission to digitize and transmit literature. Today, Project Gutenberg provides more than 36,000 e-books free for you to read online or download to your computer, Kindle, Nook or other mobile device. More than 100,000 free e-books are available through Gutenberg's affiliates and sister projects.

Most of these works are classics that are now in the public domain. Here are a few that you might want to add to your e-reader. And if you don't have an e-reader, they are also available through the SCLENDS library consortium.

"Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" by Edwin A. Abbott (1884) was written as a satire of Victorian culture, but many people read it for the lucid explanation of the possibility of extra dimensions. Mr. A. Square begins his story by describing his strange daily life and fellow Flatlanders, all of whom perceive only two dimensions. When he crosses paths with a sphere, you can imagine his bewilderment at suddenly having a whole new dimension to deal with. Download "Flatland" if you like math, science, philosophy or Victorian culture.

The BBC series "Sherlock" inspired me to revisit Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. As a fan of both this show and Fox's "House," I have a new appreciation for Holmes' quirky personality and often humorous stories. Start with the short story "A Scandal in Bohemia" in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," in which a brilliant young woman manages to outwit Holmes. Mystery fans will also love Agatha Christie and O. Henry.

Horror fans can also find "The Vampyre" (1819) by John Polidori. It's the first vampire story in English, which predates Bram Stoker's "Dracula" -- which is also available at Project Gutenberg -- by nearly 80 years. In "The Vampyre," a young Englishman meets Lord Ruthven, a mysterious aristocrat who has recently entered London society. Strangely, everyone Ruthven meets ends up suffering. You can also find the story "Dracula's Guest," a creepy deleted chapter from "Dracula."

Project Gutenberg is also a haven for language lovers. There are lots of works in widely used languages such as French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Italian, as well as a few in languages you may not be familiar with, such as Maori, Western Frisian, Scottish Gaelic, Mayan and Gamilaraay, an endangered language spoken in parts of Australia.

Thanks to Hart, you can find classic authors and more obscure works that match every taste. Learn more about him and find lots of free e-books at

Laura Henry is the assistant systems librarian for the Beaufort County Library System.