While many of us might consider e-books to be a relatively new phenomena, in reality they have existed almost as long as the Internet itself. Public domain junkies have no doubt made at least one or more visit to the Project Gutenberg archives, but what they probably don’t realize is that the movement to digitize public works under this name has been around since 1971. Why the history lesson you ask? Well, it seemed appropriate to reflect on the history of e-books today following the news that the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael S. Hart, passed away of unknown causes last week at the age of 64.
According to his obituary posted on the Project Gutenberg website, Hart worked as an adjunct professor at the Unversity of Illnois for most of his career, but digitizing public works was always his passion. "I get little notes in the email, saying 'Hey! I just (found) Project Gutenberg, and this is great stuff," Hart told WILL radio in Urbana in a 2003 interview. "You get people that (it) just tickles their fancy, and they just read and read and read, and they're so happy about it."
The first several dozen works added to the Gutenberg archive were hand typed by Hart and others, which as you can imagine, wasn’t the most efficient way to do the job. "This mission is, as much as possible, to encourage all those who are interested in making eBooks and helping to give them away," Hart wrote on the project's website, then later noted: "Project Gutenberg is not in the business of establishing standards."
To close out we’ll simply say if you haven’t checked out Project Gutenberg for your next book we highly recommend you take a peak. You might be surprised at just how many amazing books you can download legally these days without spending a dime.