11 Revolutionary Free Books That Changed The World


If you’ve read my book Luxury of Less (unavailable right now) you know I’ve been influenced by a little ancient text known as Go Rin no Sho (aka The Book of Five Rings) by Miyamoto Musashi. Since I’ve been having a lot of free time to read on the trains/buses here in Chicago I started re-reading it again and it gave me the idea for this list of freely available books that have positively affected many lives.

All of these books were written before you or I were born and you may have even read some of them. They have all heavily influenced our current society based on the simple fact that they influenced so many people in the past.

Rules when making this list:

1) The book has to be available for free in the public domain. I use the Stanza and Kindle apps on my iPod Touch to read these books and many others.

2) I had to have read it at some point in my life.

That means that hundreds, likely thousands, of great books aren’t fit for this list. That’s cool. If I’m missing a book you have read (not just heard of or read a few pages) please list it in the comments below with a link to the download. Only legal public domain books please.

The List

1) Go Rin no Sho (The Book of Five Rings) by Miyamoto Musashi

I don’t know where to start on this book. If I had to choose 5 books to take to a deserted island this would be one of them. It’s not often that I want to read a book over … and over … and over.

The Book of Five Rings is technically about Samurai strategy (in other words, how to kill people), but it’s much deeper than that.

Also available for your iPod Touch or other eBook reader for free here.

2) Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The ultimate guide to minimalism.

3) Tao Te Ching by Laozi

A very easy read. Influential and highly recommended.

4) On The Origin Of The Species by Charles Darwin

Back in 2009 while in Brisbane, QLD, Australia (loved that place; hoping for the best with the current flooding) I went to an exhibit at the museum called Charles Darwin: The Reluctant Revolutionary. It was fascinating and this book is his most well known, and most influential, work.

5) The Antichrist by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Nietzsche was an intense man. This book is not about Satan. ;) (You know, because there is no Satan.)

6) The Einstein Theory of Relativity by Hendrik Antoon Lorentz

How many times have you heard the Theory of Relativity mentioned throughout your life? Here is a version that normal people like me can understand a little better. :)

7) The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Way more influential worldwide than The Book of Five Rings, but I’m not as big a fan.

8) The Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana

This was available in every shop or street stall I passed in India. You’ve probably heard of it. ;)

9) The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie

Carnegie’s far more well-known book is How To Win Friends and Influence People. The Art of Public Speaking, however, was a greater help to me personally. I read it back in the days when I was a member of Toastmasters. Fun times. I want to do more public speaking and I feel like a re-read is in order.

10) The United States Constitution

This obviously isn’t a book. I’ve listed it here less because it’s life-changing, but more because I wonder how many citizens of the US have actually read it?

11) On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau appears twice on this list because he is just that much of a bad ass. I just finished reading Civil Disobedience a few days ago. Much like Walden it’s not the easiest read, but I enjoyed it.


To find out if one of your favorite books is in the public domain check gutenberg.org or feedbooks.com. They’re not the end all and be all, but it’s a good start. Hit me with a public domain book that has positively influenced you or the world below …


  1. Thanks for the collection,

    I haven’t read any, nope not even the united states constitution. ha ha

    Some look very interesting. I’ll make sure I check them out.

  2. Ammm…. what about the most fantastic book in history. The Bible. Oh, and BTW the first trick of the devil is to make you believe he doesn’t exist. Beware my friend.

  3. Ooh, I have a 2011 Goal to read 50 books. This will add a few but I’ve actually read most of these! As an English major they ask you to choose a time period for literature to focus on, and I chose Victorian literature (early-mid 19th century.) This means I have a bookshelf filled with Hawthorne, Austen, Thoreau and Emerson.

    As for other books (now I’ll have to search if they are available public domain…): The Alchemist by Coelho (favorite, not available), Pride & Prejudice by Austen (brilliant study of character & human relationships, available), either series of Emerson’s essays (similar theories to Thoreau and Whitman, available), The Lottery by Jackson (short story, questions of ethics and society, not available)

    Off the top of my head those are some of my favorites!

    • Hey Elisa, thanks for the list. But yes, favorite books and revolutionary books in the public domain are two different beasts. :) I love The Alchemist (have read it in English and Polish), but it’s definitely not public domain.

  4. Ooh – I’m gonna echo the commenter above me and say Siddhartha as well!

    This is a little different because it’s marketed as a ‘young adult’ novel, but The Giver by Lois Lowry seriously changed my life. I’m not sure if it’s public domain or not – I found a lot of free versions of it online just now with a Google search, but it may or may not be legal.

    • Thanks Michelle. The easiest way to find out if a book is public domain is to check gutenberg.org or feedbooks.com. Those aren’t the end all and be all, but they are the quickest searches.

  5. LOL Never heard Thoreau described as a “bad ass” but he certainly was :) I need to re-read Walden, it’s been a long time.

    One of my favorites is “Emma” by Jane Austen…a brilliant and humorous take on why it’s not a good idea to meddle in other people’s lives, and the insight that can come when you come to grips with who you really are. I love the witty relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightly, and how he continually calls her out.

    Thanks for the very cool book list. :)

  6. Love Tao Te Ching! Although, I have a CD version by Wayne Dyer where he also gives his interpretation of what each verse means. Good for working out and long road trips.

    Thanks for linking to that that website. I’d never heard of it before.

  7. I’ve only just started reading The Book of Five Rings, and it’s already blowing my mind. Can’t wait to make my way through the rest of the list.

  8. Boy, I’ve got some catching up to do. While my 13 year old daughter has read over 2k books (I know because I’ve been paying her a quarter each since age 4), I’m slightly under that. Okay, no where close. But, I have been knocking them off lately with no signs of slowing. Parnassus on Wheels is a funny read from 1917. Which book on your list would be first Karol? That’s where I’ll start. Thanks

  9. Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D Wattles has been very instrumental in changing my views about money and consequently my life and lifestyle. Originally written in 1910 and available in public domain.

  10. Thanks for the great list, I *love* Walden! I didn’t know about Feedbooks (I’ve been using Project Gutenberg, so thanks for that too!] Deb

    • I knew somebody was going to list that. It took longer than I expected. ;) Thanks Dustin. Think and Grow Rich was one of the first “success” books I read back in my teens.

  11. Great list Karol! I downloaded several, including Walden, which I can’t believe I hadn’t before! My to-read list just gets longer and longer!

  12. I’d have to agree with Paul’s comment that the Bible is a fantastic book. And I believe it fits the criteria as a book that changed the world. Also, it qualifies as a free kindle download.

  13. So glad I saw this. I just spent 3 hours on Feedbooks and downloaded over 100 books and put them on my iPad to read later. I’m already finishing up The Art of Public Speaking. Such a cool book.

    Thanks for sharing this, Karol!

  14. I’ve already read several times “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Zi – and it changed my thinking process in many ways… Even if it’s a little puzzling at the begining, I really loved it!
    “The Art of Public Speaking” by Dale Carnegie is also a powerful book.

    Interesting, what will I say when I’ll read the whole list? :)

  15. :D :D
    Maybe I could add to this list one of Coelho’s books (I’ve found all of them free, in pdf). My favourite is “The Zahir” – it’s different from his other writings, and it unveils a philosophy that encourages following your passion and not surrendering to the external world. In case you’ve noticed, it’s similar to “Ridiculously Extraordinary Freedom” :) (and I bet that with all his traveling Paulo Coelho is a minimalist :D)

  16. When I decided to give up reading paper books I have hoped this will slow down the growth of my to-read list. Apparently not, although most of the books from list are quite short.

    Now, my only problem is to actually have time to read them. Waiting for your post: “How to read a book when you absolutely don’t have time” ;)

  17. Hi Karol,

    I randomly stumbled onto your blog while browsing the interwebs and have got to say – your posts are downright hilarious.

    Great list of reading materials. Most of the books I’ve heard about but never had the chance to read. I’m going to take this opportunity to download Walden for free on my kindle!

  18. I have heard of some of them before, especially the first one from the japanese comic named Vagabond, but I never got a chance to find them to read. Anyway, thank for sharing the rare lists, interesting to bury myself in whenever in a free time.

  19. hi! i thought u missed one, so here it is.
    the story of philosophy by will durant.

    it changed a lot of peoples’ thinking….

    should give it a try and i think it is public domain…

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