The next chapter

April 24, 2012


When Johannes Gutenberg developed the modern movable type printing press in 1455, enabling the fast and accurate reproduction of written works, it was a global revolutionary act.The mass production of books facilitated both the cultural renaissance and the spread of religious and scientific reformation across Western Europe and beyond.

This abundance of books and the rapid spread of knowledge changed the world, advancing the development of the human race exponentially in just a few years. Sound familiar? Computer technology, during the 1980s and 1990s did the same thing. In the 21st century, something as significant as the printed word has almost become redundant.

Books are now available, digitally, on the nearest computer or tablet screen.  In an almost poetic arc of acknowledgment, one of the most popular online resources for digitised books is the prestigious archive of Project Gutenberg (PG).

PG, founded by academic Michael Hart in 1971, is the oldest and largest digital archive that catalogues culturally significant and historical texts. These works are copyright-free and in the public domain, making them available free to download in any popular format (PDF, HTML, Kindle) onto any digital device.  

While other digital libraries, notably Google Books, may offer a wider selection of more contemporary texts, almost always at a price, PG has maintained an academic philosophy to fulfil its mission to use technology to "break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy", in much the same way that the historical libraries of Cairo and Constantinople were lovingly archived and open to the masses.

And the treasures contained in this modern global library are startling. While the project’s top downloads offer a diverse collection ranging from Mark Twain and popular stories of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs, to the Kama Sutra, Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the King James Bible, there are also some other hidden gems available free in the digitally dusty catacombs of Project Gutenberg.

Oliver Onions – Widdershins
A collection of early 20th century psychological horror, that was largely unpopular when first published, yet greatly informed the modern thriller genre, through its realistic narratives and language.

Ernest William Hornung – various
Written in the same era as the more popular Sherlock Holmes stories, these adventures of gentleman thief and amateur criminologist AJ Raffles were whimsical pulp fiction romps that were a precursor for Leslie Charteris’ The Saint character, and, more recently, the fantasy detective fiction of Jasper Fforde. 

Kaiten Nukariya - The Religion of the Samurai
One of the first texts available in the Western world that explore the history and mystery of Japan’s samurai warriors, it explores the oft-misunderstood Zen moral philosophy practised by the Samurai, both in the heat of battle and their lives between wars. Like Sun Tzu’s more popular Art of War, an incisive look at the mysteries of Far Eastern culture.

Jerome K. Jerome - Three Men in a Boat
This humourous travelogue through the Thames River meander contains some of the most biting and cleverest writing that is as refreshing today as it was when first published in 1889. It is a British cult book, lauded by fans of farce, notably Stephen Fry, as “Heart of Darkness on helium”. For fans of the kind of modern and clever humour later perfected by Joseph Heller and proponents of New Journalism.

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