Project Gutenberg

Fifty years ago today, at the age of 24, Michael Stern Hart of Urbana, Illinois, founded Project Gutenberg. It was the world’s first digital library, using technology that would eventually help create the Internet.

Michael invented ebooks.

An interesting guy, his parents were both professors at the University of Illinois. He graduated from U of I in two years with a degree in Human-Machine Interfaces. How’s that for a complicated and specific field of study?

In the late 1960s, he spent some time as a street musician. Use your imagination for what his life was like. He made very little money, working out of passion and desire to capture and make great books available to everyone.

He passed away from a heart attack in 2011 at the age of 64.

For the first 25 years of Project Gutenberg, digital text files of public-domain books were hand-typed by Michael and other volunteers. By the mid-90s, the Internet and other technologies changed everything; and the last 25 years saw explosive growth for all kinds of digital formats of the written word.

What exists today is Project Gutenberg, a free resource with an unbelievable variety of materials that have expired copyright, placing them in the public domain. The website says 60,000 ebooks are available, among other things, such as audiobooks, pictures, and sheet music.

With over one million ebook downloads per week, you can do the math of how active the site is.

At this writing, the top downloaded Christian-themed books were:

The Confessions of St. Augustine
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
The Pilgrim’s Progress by Bunyan
The Pursuit of God by Tozer

Among other available authors of interest for Christians are Dostoyevsky, Luther, Chesterton, Newton, Aquinas, and Sheldon. Think of an old book, and you can find your choice of digital formats.

For a constantly updated list of Christian-themed books, click here.

I find it interesting ebooks are characterized by many literature and publishing purists as something less than a real book when the format was founded by literature-loving people with no financial interest but with a driving passion to make classic works available to all, no matter where they live and regardless of their ability to pay.

So, today we remember Michael Hart, whose quiet legacy lives on.

8 Responses to Project Gutenberg

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 1, 2021 at 3:46 am #

    To make the classics free to all,
    oh, baby, what a blast!
    Paper’s so ephemeral,
    but digital can last
    free from that which doth corrupt,
    the silverfish and mouse,
    and in this format won’t deduct
    from shelf-space in your house.
    So thank you kindly, Michael Hart,
    and all your volunteers
    for that which you had dared to start,
    and pursued throughout these years,
    preserving grace-filled works of old
    that their fine words be ever told.

  2. Dave December 1, 2021 at 5:26 am #

    I’ve been reading CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy here.

  3. Kristen Joy Wilks December 1, 2021 at 9:08 am #

    That is so amazing and lovely! He died so young, but did so much. It encourages me to make every day count. Ebooks allowed me to become a book buyer and not just someone who could only read books from the library or get a book for a birthday or Christmas present. They made books an affordable option for me and I am so grateful! Of course, I also still get them from the library and for Christmas, ha!

  4. Kay DiBianca December 1, 2021 at 12:44 pm #

    We live in a special time when so much is available to us, thanks to people like Michael Hart. What a legacy he left.

  5. Kathy December 3, 2021 at 3:58 pm #

    What an interesting post about Micheal Hart and his important legacy in the Gutenberg Project. I had never heard of it and will be checking it out! Thanks, Dan

  6. casinositehomecom December 3, 2021 at 8:09 pm #

    My companion referenced to me your blog, so I thought I’d read it for myself. Interesting experiences, will be back for additional!

  7. Eileen December 5, 2021 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks for posting this! What a story. Michael Hart, we honor you and your team of volunteers. How cool to know that e-books came from such a humble beginning!

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