If the author has given a website permission to display the book's contents or a work is part of the public domain, you may be able to read a book online for free. There are legitimate websites that offer free books from a variety of genres to be read online or downloaded to an eBook device.
About Copyright Law and Free Books
In the U.S., authors are allowed to copyright books. This allows them to control the distribution of the book and sell it for a profit. However, copyrights don't last forever. The current length of a book copyright is 70 years. Due to a 20-year copyright extension issued in 1998, anything issued before 1923 is in the public domain. That means that any website can host books published before 1923 and you can read them for free. Also, lesser-known authors at times offer books for free as a way to gain readership or encourage interest in a particular topic.
Founded in 1971, volunteer-run Project Gutenberg offers more than 49,000 eBooks for free to the public. In addition to offering books in plain text for online reading, many books are available in PDF or EBPUB format for easy reading on tablets and mobile devices. In addition to eBooks, the project also offers some audio books, CDs and DVDs for download.
To search for a particular title on Project Gutenberg, navigate to the Project Gutenberg homepage and click Search Catalog. Otherwise, you can browse works by category by clicking the Book Categories link.
U.S. Library of Congress
The U.S. Library of Congress maintains a large assortment classic books online at Read.gov. The books, digitized for online reading, are time-honored favorites. The books are categorized into sections for kids, teens, adults, educators and parents. Read.gov also offers suggested booklists of offline titles that you can look for at a local library.
To read books through the U.S. Library of Congress, navigate to Read.gov and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click on Classic Books and use the Search this site function to search for a title.
Amazon.com offers a number of free books that you can read using a Kindle application. Although a physical Kindle costs money to purchase, you can download a free Kindle Reading App for your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
To find a book on Amazon.com, navigate to the Amazon homepage and type "free ebooks" in the search bar. Amazon will display all free ebooks in a search results page, which you can then filter by genre.
The book section of Google Play offers online books for a price, but it also offers many for free. Search by genre, like biographies, science fiction or travel, or use the search function to search for a particular title. Books can be read online and are automatically added to your Google Play account, which you can access on a mobile device or a tablet.
After searching for a title, you'll most likely get a mix of free and paid options to choose from. To see only the free options, click on All Prices and choose Free.
Be wary of torrent websites -- sites that offer files with a .torrent extension shared through a peer-to-peer network -- offering eBook downloads. Many torrent websites illegally distribute books that are still under copyright without the author's permission.