Michael Hart, founder of free ebooks repository Project Gutenberg, died this week. He was 64.
Why mention this on Cult of Mac? Because I think we all owe him something. If you have ever downloaded an ebook of any sort, from any source, you have Hart to thank for his pioneering work in the field (as early as 1971, when he first typed the Declaration of Independence into a computer).
Project Gutenberg was Hart’s great lifetime project, and deserves a place on the list of the best websites of all time. Entirely funded by donations, the Project now hosts over 36,000 copyright-free books in a wide variety of formats.
Gregory Newby has written a brief obituary, in which he says:
Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.
Without Michael Hart there would be no Project Gutenberg. Those 36,000 volumes would still be languishing in obscurity, unread and unreadable by most people. But thanks to him, you can pull your iDevice out of your pocket right now, and download something amazing to read, for free, just like that. (Try Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan, it’s informative and hilarious.)
If you have an iOS device, there are various apps that offer simple, direct access to everything on Project Gutenberg. Two of my favorites are Stanza and Eucalyptus.