10 Classics That Are Free To Read

Proven entertainment with no ticket price. Can't beat that.

It can be tough to come by good entertainment once you’re out of college, especially anything free. I love the movies as much as the next man, but when it’s a choice between getting eight o’clock tickets and not having to eat ramen noodles (for the fifth week in a row), chances are I’m going without. With cable, the movies, and even Netflix first up for getting cut from the budget when times are tough, finding ways of keeping ourselves entertained can be difficult. Fortunately though, there are plenty of classics out there (like our ten recommendations below) which are as gripping as the craziest action flick or as moving as an Oscar-worthy drama – and all readily accessible and completely free.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Project Gutenberg

How Tarantino hasn’t adapted The Count of Monte Cristo into a film remains one of life’s great mysteries. Alexander Dumas (equally famous for The Three Musketeers) tells the tale of a young sailor betrayed on his wedding night by his friends. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he is thrown into prison only to be befriended by an enigmatic inmate. Bursting at the seams with life-and-death escapes, hidden treasure, secret identities, bandits, smugglers, conspiracies, and one man’s mission to utterly and totally destroy all who have wronged him, The Count of Monte Cristo remains one of the greatest revenge stories ever told.

The Iliad and The Odyssey

Project Gutenberg

It’s been said that in the history of man, only two stories have ever been told: the Iliad and the Odyssey, the epic of going to war and the saga of at last coming home. Homer’s great work has survived the test of time not simply for its stories of heroism, vengeance, fate, betrayal, and endurance but for how it’s resounded with the human spirit across the ages (that and the image of dragging the corpse of your nemesis behind your chariot). The Iliad and Odyssey are both of a rare breed of story that will grow as you do, offering new perspectives and insights every time you read them, from the blood-soaked shores of Troy to the lonely island of Calypso.

Lysistrata

Project Gutenberg

Not every ancient Greek text has to be a universal study of the nature of the human spirit. For everyone who’s been waiting for their chance to read raunchy humor and look deep while doing so, your ship’s come in at last. Aristophanes’ legendary play Lysistratatells the tale of the women of ancient Greece withholding sex from their husbands in order to finally end the Peloponnesian Wars. Packed with more physical comedy than a Three Stooges marathon, more double-entendres than you’d think would hold up after a translation (and 2,400 years), and a surprisingly feminist message, Lysistrata’s sure to make you both laugh and think (and have everyone else admire your studious examination of the age-old battle of the sexes).

The Call of the Wild

The Jack London Collection

Of course, some of humanity’s greatest classics aren’t about humans at all. Jack London’s 1903 novel follows Buck, a massive St. Bernard-Collie kidnapped from his owner and taken north where he’s sold as a sled dog during the Klondike gold rush. As he moves from master to master we’re witness to a savage and spectacular panorama of both man and animal struggling against each other and against the perils of the frozen, wild north. Savage wolves, knife fights and whiskey, towering pines and roaring rapids, gold dust and gunpowder – what more could you ask for?

The Bible

Biblehub

I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t believe, but regardless of where you stand you can’t deny that the Bible has been the single most influential book in human history. To this day it continues to affect our politics, our culture, our values – heck, even the phrases and idioms we use on a daily basis.  Yet for all its impact (past and present alike) it’s nevertheless surprisingly rare to find someone who’s read the book cover-to-cover, especially considering it includes the story of a man who set fire to a field by tying 300 foxes together.

Yes, foxes. 300 of ‘em. Read it for yourselves.

The Communist Manifesto

Marxists.org

Marx and Engel’s little pamphlet on political-economy doubtlessly ranks second only to the Bible in shaping the world we live in. Like the Bible, an actual awareness of what the 200-year-old manifesto contains is tough to come by. With the revival of terms like “socialist” and “Marxist” (even if only as insults), it’s integral now more than ever to get a full and complete understanding of exactly what these concepts entail (watching Red Dawn just isn’t going to cut it). Don’t let the dry jargon fool you- keep reading diligently and you’ll be bellowing rebellious war cries as Marx’s laundry list of this world’s injustices unfolds. Viva la revolución!

Tarzan of the Apes

Wikisource

Tarzan of the Apes is turning 100 this year, and even after all that time it remains pulp fiction at its finest. No frills, no airs – just a simple story with no higher intent than to be rollicking good fun. From Tarzan’s one-man army vendetta with the local tribe to his battles with jungle cats, it’s entertainment without apology, and sets the framework for the king of ape’s future adventures (yes, it’s a series, and yes, you can expect dinosaur fights along the way).

The Art of War

Manybooks

Written over 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu’s brilliant primer on strategy and tactics nevertheless remains as relevant today as it was in Iron Age China. Its lessons on surprise attacks, deception, and public relations are today no longer relegated to the battlefield but have since been adopted in business, advertising/marketing, and even the world of sports. Regardless of your line of work, The Art of War’s simple guidelines are sure to help you gain the advantage in any situation (and of course by “gain the advantage”, I mean you’ll be driving your enemies before you and listening to the lamentations of their women).

1984

University of Adelaide

Very few books become more relevant with age, however George Orwell’s prophetic classic 1984 ranks chief among them. Portraying a dystopian future devoid of privacy, dignity, and free-thought, Orwell’s bleak account of agonized struggle against absolute authority is sure to grip you to the very end. With the ongoing debate on questions of surveillance (from airports to the internet), national security, and censorship, 1984 will certainly hit closer to home than most of us would be comfortable with – but in the end, isn’t that just the point?

The Call of Cthulhu

Hplovecraft.com

Arguably the crowning jewel of H.P. Lovecraft’s career, The Call of Cthulhu is all that you’d expect from the great master of horror. Lovecraft takes the reader on a dizzying journey through the eye of madness to bear witness to strange and sinister phenomena sweeping the globe, from the dark swamps of Louisiana, where a number of disappearances have been tied to a strange cult, to the western shores of Greenland where an ancient tribe has been linked to a mysterious and hideous statue. With reports of increasing frequency and urgency from across the world, all related to an unspeakable horror rising up from the depths of the ocean, you’ll be plunged into a sinister and twisted realm of evils lurking just out of sight. If this onslaught of inexplicable dread doesn’t thrill and chill you to the core, then nothing will.

Gordon Brown is a former ex-pat recently moved back to the US from the Middle East. He spends his time working as a vocational counselor and downing more energy drinks than is healthy and/or sane. You can find more of his fevered scribblings and subversive, revolutionary tracts over at CultureWarReporters.com..

  • Bryan

    For non-english based works, I recommend looking at the available translations before reading. The free versions are often 75+ years old, and can be much harder to read.

    For the Count of Monte Cristo, I highly recommend the 2003 Robin Buss translation ($6.60 on Amazon from Penguin classics). Check out the review at http://www.amazon.com/review/R32RM4W4DCMBT7 for a detailed example of why a modern translation is worth your money.

    • Rt1583

      Thanks for the pointer on Count of Monte Cristo.

  • Justin O’Connor

    I’m currently reading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer which was free from Amazon’s Kindle store.

  • Travis

    You can read a bunch more books for free at your local library…

    • Brad McNally

      As soon as I saw this post I thought the same thing. As a librarian, obviously, but also as a patron. I honestly frequent multiple libraries, but don’t forget that your card can get you a huge number of ebooks also.

  • Shawn

    1,000,000 points awarded to Travis!

  • Rob

    Nice list Gordon, thanks. Just something I’d like to pick up though – I think religious texts other than the bible could arguably be equally as influential as the bible itself, such as the Koran. Certainly I would’ve thought that the Koran is much more influential than the communist manifesto in terms of global politics through history (being older than the manifesto, more relevant today and potentially covers a larger population). But as you’ve spent time living in the Middle East, I would defer to your opinion!