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Harvard Classics Book Download (myharvardclassics.com)
412 points by kqr2 on May 26, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

Or in any format you like here: https://archive.org/details/Harvard-Classics or https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Harvard_Classics_(Bookshelf)

EDIT: added Project Gutenberg link.

Slight self promotion, but Standard Ebooks has a few of the classics, and a few more of the classic fiction available as nicely formatted and accessible PD ebooks (epub, Kobo variant epub, and Kindle formats for each):

- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/benjamin-franklin/the-auto...

- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/marcus-aurelius/meditation...

- Don Quixote by Cervantes: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/miguel-de-cervantes-saaved...

- Pride and Predudice by Jane Austen: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/jane-austen/pride-and-prej...

- Vanity Fair by William Thackeray: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/william-makepeace-thackera...

- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/charles-dickens/david-copp...

- Washington Irving collection: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/washington-irving/the-sket...

- Father Goriot by Balzac: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/honore-de-balzac/father-go...

- The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/j-w-von-goethe/the-sorrows...

- Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/fyodor-dostoevsky/crime-an...

These are nearly always taken from the Gutenberg source transcriptions, but tidied up typographically and marked up using modern technologies. If you notice any problems with any of these we’ll happily take PRs!

Thanks for Standard; it really adds a missing piece to the landscape.

+1 for Standard Ebooks. Great work!

At the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, the ePub versions I tried are rather unreadable, at least for me. Too many erroneously omitted spaces between words, odd hyphens breaking a word up in the middle of a paragraph, and mis-spellings.

I have this issue on all the epubs I have downloaded on archive.org, the converter they use (pandoc?) seems to give bad results on pdf-epub.

If you have low quality source, eg OCRed scans, then you’ll never get a high quality ePub. It needs manual intervention and proofing to keep quality up. Not to say that archive.org isn’t useful - I’ve produced a collection of Keats poetry[1] as an ePub from their OCRed source in the past - but it’s not really consumable as is.

[1] https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/john-keats/poetry

Yeah, I came here just to say that. I downloaded and unzipped the archive, then opened a few. The ones I looked at were badly formatted and had no TOC as well.

POSIX one-liner to download all PDFs:

  $ curl -s https://www.myharvardclassics.com/categories/20120212 \
    | grep "downloads.*download" | sed -e 's/href/\n&/g' \
    | sed 's/.*\(http:.*download\)/\1/g' | grep " - " \
    | grep -v target | sed 's/"> - / /g' | sed 's/<.*//g' \
    | while read link rest; do \
        if [ "${i}" = "" ]; then i=1; fi; \
        wget -O "Harvard Classics - Volume $(printf '%02d' ${i}) - ${rest}.pdf" "${link}"; \
        i=$(( i + 1 )); \

For anyone that wants to download the books, I strongly recommend downloading the PDF archive on Archive.org because the image scans within the PDFs are of much higher quality. https://archive.org/details/Harvard-Classics

Nice. The `du -ch *pdf` for myharvardclassics.com is 439M, and this higher quality zip is 975MB.

  $ wget "https://archive.org/compress/Harvard-Classics/formats=TEXT%20PDF&file=/Harvard-Classics.zip"

Excellent form! I would LOVE to see more of this type of posting in HN. We're supposed to hack everything!

There was a really neat post the other day I think you might like about how someone made a shell script that performed a job like 200x quicker than hadoop. You'd probably enjoy it.

Anyways, thanks!

I should have checked the comments before downloading all books manually...

It is great that these books are available for download. However, the quality of a translation is hugely important. Even translations that were considered great at the time may be turgid and off-putting to a contemporary ear. And the problem is that you might try, for example, Dante from this list, hate it, and miss out on what may have been a life-altering reading experience. My advice, if you want to read some of the great classics, is to (a) look at reviews; and (b) compare paragraphs from different translations.

Whenever this subject comes up, I feel the need to point out St. John's College's undergraduate liberal arts program: https://www.sjc.edu/academic-programs

Also Thomas Aquinas College. It is a Socratic method, great books only undergraduate program. https://thomasaquinas.edu

I assume you are implying it is based on the Harvard Classics? I guess they wouldn’t explicitly advertise it as such.

Yes. The undergraduate 'great books' program used at St. John's came from the University of Chicago (Mortimer Adler and others) through Stringfellow Barr. The University of Chicago based their program on Charles Eliot's work (i.e., the Harvard University Classics).

I was also pointing out that it's (anecdotally) beneficial to read the Harvard Classics and other foundational works, but if you're looking for some sort of academic purity, there you go.

They are pointing out that it’s based on Great Books, the Western Canon. There will be some disagreement on which minor works are part of the canon but very little on major works. Plato, Homer, Augustine, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Cicero, Goethe, Dante, Shakespeare

Props for using the proper name of Ibn Sina!

So how does one go about reading such classics? Any tips? I often get distracted by the arcane language of many translations and go for a modern translation, preferably annotated. Even when the English seems pretty readable (say, Shakespeare) it's obvious I miss quite a lot in comprehension.

If you're not familiar with Greek myths, I'd start with those. Greek gods and characters are everywhere in the great books. Here's a good (and short) overview: https://www.amazon.com/Heroes-Gods-Monsters-Greek-Myths-eboo...).

Reading the books chronologically also helps. You'll understand more of the references and see how the books build on each other (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Conversation) e.g. Homer (Ilad) -> Virgil (Aeneid) -> Dante (Divine Comedy).

Modern translations are great too. You can always go back and read more "faithful" ones. Some good examples are: The Divine Comedy (https://www.amazon.com/Divine-Comedy-Dante-Alighieri/dp/0871...) and The Canterbury Tales (https://www.amazon.com/Canterbury-Tales-Retelling-Ackroyd-Cl...).

That said, the best approach may be: don't worry about it. Sure you'll miss things, but you'll get valuable insights too.

Open the first page, and continue through the rest. This might seem like a flippant answer, but I've always hated companion texts which try to read specific meanings into primary texts. I much prefer just to engage with the original, and make what I can of it. I figure I might miss some things, but I can also have my own perspective.

I understand where you're coming from, but for most people the brute force approach to reading original texts without sufficient background deprives them of many layers of understanding that makes a text rewarding to read.

And because most readers are centuries removed form the original context of the text, a direct reading also skews their interpretation significantly because most will read it through their own 21st century lens (this is how chronological bias seeps in).

Companion texts (or commentaries) might seem like crutches or training wheels because they only present one interpretive option (which could reflect a commentary author's biases).

The remedy is use more than one commentary, not necessarily to discard all commentaries. Critical thinkers do this instinctively anyway -- for instance, we click on multiple Google News links to figure out what's going on.

Commentaries help a modern reader to get to speed on the historical context and thinking that was present during that era, which in turn helps them to formulate their own (more informed) thoughts. One could try to piece together this material by inferring stuff from the text, but chances are one would be wrong about the details and one would have to consult secondary or tertiary materials anyway.

In Chaim Potok's "The Chosen" (fiction), there's a Hasidic character named Danny Saunders who was a prodigy, praised by all for his intelligence. He had an eidetic memory and great ability for analysis, but found himself stumped when reading original texts in psychology. He studies German in order to read Freud, but he gets stuck on the fact German words can be understood in many different ways, when he only wants to find the ONE way.

He has a breakthrough when he realizes that Freud's works need to be studied, not read. His epiphany led to him studying Freud using Talmudic methods (with multiple commentaries), arguing with it, etc. and finally, the text yields to him.

TLDR: when a text stumps you, try reading it with multiple commentaries.

What you are describing is what must be done when one embarks on a project of literary study.

If you just want a story, which is what almost all readers actually read for, just read it as it is, and if doesn't make any sense you are perfectly entitled to think it was a shitty book.

Frankly I think a (fiction) book must always be able to be read as-is, unsupported by outside means, else it is no longer a book.

(You hear that Greg Egan?! You wrote a really bad text book or a pretty good fiction book with pointless homework included every now and then.)

In 500 years, Star Trek will require a watcher's guide and come with a bundle of commentaries. Footnotes about 20th century culture will crawl across the bottom of the screen like subtitles. There will be a saying that, "by the time you are experienced enough to play Wesley you will be too old for him." Children will be expected to bubble in standardized Star Trek tests.

People don't usually read classics because they "just want a story".

> but I can also have my own perspective.

That seems alien to me, the notion that access to an interpretation prevents you from forming your own.

Consider: discovering context in a companion that describes the authors state of mind at time of writing.

That information may alter your perception of the primary resource.

Find an online class on the book. For example, Mythgard Academy's class on The Consolation of Philosophy: https://mythgard.org/academy/consolation-of-philosophy/

Annotated books are also good.

There are many ways to start. One way is to follow a favorite subject (for nonfiction classics). If you don't know much about a particular work, skim the book. Don't expect to or worry about getting "everything" from a book. The classics are eminently re-readable. If after 50 or 100 pages it's not "working" for you, set it aside; maybe things will go better later.

Reading groups are a great help. Even one other person to ask questions with, read passages to, and discuss--can help encourage you and add a lot of enjoyment.

Find a pace that works for you and your book. Too slow and one can lose the big picture. Too fast and one can miss key details. Some works work well when read aloud; Shakespeare's like that.

At the bottom is the Reading list .pdf . It has a suggested reading for every day of the year, at about 10 pages of reading per day. I'd just open that up and go to it. For May 27th it is:

Lessing's Courageous Stand for Toleration:

To advance freedom of thought, Lessing published an essay of one hundred paragraphs outlining the history of religion. The wrath of orthodox churchmen was hurled at his head, and Lessing was left alone to defend his daring theories.

Read from The Education of the Human Race Vol. 32, pp. 185-195

You have to be aware of the age of these books, and esp. the comments, written in 1910. The books itself did age quite properly, but the lectures and comments not so. E.g. they are in todays standard extremely racist, unscientific and religious, all over in praise of the Aryan race, the superiority of Christianism and mixed in the Jews.

E.g. Vol 51, p22: "The Germans were crude and military; the Latins were subtle and peaceful".

A modern canon would be much be better, such as we learn it in todays schools.

go for a modern translation, preferably annotated.

That's a perfectly sensible way to go, in most cases. You also don't have to start with the wankiest things just because they used to beat this stuff into 10 year olds in original. Anabasis is a lot easier than History of the Peloponnesian War

"The Five Foot Shelf". Those were once a common set of books. They'd show up in used bookstores. Back when there were bookstores.

When I was a kid we had the whole set. I assume that it was something tied together with Britannica -- we had an early 60's set. I tried to read them but the font faces were so small that they were terrible reading copies. If memory serves, I remember really, really trying to read Moby Dick and Darwin (are they both on the list?) but the tiny type and terrible formatting defeated me.

More than 45 years later, I've read maybe 70% of the books in the list (maybe more), but all in different, more readable editions. Today almost everything I read is in epub, and pdf for technical and scientific papers.

You can still pick these up in used bookstores. Garage sales are also great spots to get them.

You mean, now all the bookstores are used? ;)

Shouldn't it be "used-book stores"?

Nope. Used Bookstores is correct.

Most readable one is also the one most mystifying included: Two Years before the Mast.

I actually bought this collection on ebay years ago for like 10 dollars. It's really a great example of not being able to buy the time along with the books. They mostly collect dust. "Mmm, Sacred Writings..."

Would this be a good set from which to gain some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies?

They look great, alas they’re all pdf so text size is fixed :(

This is a fantastic converter of pdf to pdf (!) but fitting your e-books reader:


I like reading with the originally printed fonts on my reader.

Yes, but hopefully you have a larger device and can scale the PDF but as others have pointed out, there are ePub versions about.

I sort of prefer PDFs though, when an ePub is allowed to reflow the content ... it often leaves some off widows and orphans. (Never mind the problems when there are also illustrations or drop caps.)

What would you recommend? epub? Something else?

Epub is a great format if you're not just embedding images. It's pretty braindead, so generating it is easy, as is converting it to any other standard you need. Most ereaders can parse it.

However, if you have the LaTeX source, then you can both convert to whatever, and have no information loss. But you do usually have to render it to something else.

Where does one find LaTeX source for published books?

I downloaded them, unzipped, and opened a few. They're pretty badly formatted, especially the title pages. And none of the volumes I looked at had any table of contents.

Ah! I had high hopes for this, but these appear to be OCR'ed, and they could use some proofreading.

Gist for downloading the guide in text format for easier consumption: https://gist.github.com/mutaphore/e8f2d9fec119288215b186d7dc...

I have been experimenting with the idea of reading some classics in the languages they were written in - Greek, Latin, French, etc., and I am still wondering if the experience is worth the effort (of learning a language), especially given the availability of many excellent English translations.

The difficulty is that your language ability needs to be at such a high level that you'd lose more nuance from a translation than you would from lack of vocabulary etc when reading the original. In my opinion it's worth it for poetry but prose less so.

Hard to say if it's worth the effort, but I've taught myself enough French to read classics (e.g. Hugo, Déscartes, Tocqueville), and it really is an immense pleasure. I imagine I'll get a kick out of it for the rest of my life.

This is fantastic. My only gripe here is that I don't see Herodotus or Thucydides listed, which I would consider very important prerequisites to some of the other books, especially Plutarch.

Is this resource new, or has it been available for a while?

Would Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius generally make it onto a complete classics list, or is it because of Stoicism's recent resurgence in popularity?

I guess it depends on how 'complete' a list you're looking for, but the Loeb Classics library included Aurelius in 1916 and Epictetus in 1925. They were not in any way forgotten or thought of as minor.

The Harvard Classics anthology was compiled in 1909.


What a great link for starting off the long weekend!

Great idea!

My parent's got a set of these in the 60's, leather bound with gold leaf printing on the covers and page trims. I had them assessed a few years ago, and they are worth a small mint. Then my evil sister got them and they are gone.

Which books would you recommend to read from these?

Here [1] is a list (extracted from volume 50 apparently) of suggested excerpts. Supposedly, if you spend just 15 minutes a day reading these, you will become well educated in just a year. Note: I have not tried this.

[1] https://www.myharvardclassics.com/categories/20120612_1

Note, some of them require signing in.

I wonder how well this list would work as a mailing list.

the reading guide at the bottom is quite nice. It has a daily recommended 15minute snippet.

https://personalmba.com/ is also good for entrepreneurs

I tried to read through this once. I couldn't get beyond: "Volume 1 - Benjamin Franklin" because I found Benny Frank to be an insufferable nerd hah. It sort of ruined the perception that grade school gave me of him.

When people talk about a culture of “anti-intellectualism”, this is what they’re talking about.

That's not true. He was just sort of a jerk. Maybe I should have said he was a nerd that was also an insufferable person. :)

Did you read it?

Yes, I've read it multiple times - it's incredibly short yet filled with a lot of wisdom. I highly suggest you give it a second look.

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