I'm not sure whether this is such a great question, and I'm not looking at illegal ways, but is there any way to obtain textbooks for free (legally)?

Answers very much appreciated.

  • 12
    You really shouldn't be creating 3+ accounts to ask the same question. Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 2:47
  • 3
    Are down-voters just reacting to the need for a textbook for free in academia? Anyway, the question could be probably improved with a context and motivation.
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 7:19
  • @Orion I believe the down-voters were responding to the behavior of the poster, who had created 5+ accounts and was posting nonsense answers to duplicates of this question, all now deleted.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 12:01
  • 1
    @jakebeal I also understand how frustrating this is. But I assume the votes in this community should only reflect the value/importance/significance of questions, and should not be biased by the PO's identity or behaviour outside the question thread. This is not Faebook ;)
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 12:15
  • 5
    @Orion That's an interesting question for meta, i think: I have opened a question on this there.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 12:54

4 Answers 4


Here are a few ways that you should look into:

  • Check your university library
  • If your library doesn't have it, ask them about doing a interlibrary loan
  • Talk to your professor. They can be insightful and understanding about these things so they might be able to lend you a copy.
  • Search online for ebook/PDF versions. I found that an old edition of a statistics book was available on the author's website for free.

If you are out of options with obtaining it for free then you can usually find a used copy at your book store or online for cheaper.

Books certainly can be pricey, so in the future it helps if you factor these costs in when you apply for student loans/scholarships.


From the point of view of teaching staff: sure there are, I get them all the time.

If you are the person in charge of a university course, you can often ask the publishers for an instructor's (or evaluation) copy.

Some of them will only give you (time-limited) online access, some will ask you to send the book back if you don't adopt the book officially in your syllabus, but most of the times it's a free copy for good. Sometimes I even had sales reps come to my office, or send new editions to me unsolicited.


Move to Switzerland. It is legal up there in the middle of the Alps to download copyrighted material for private use. The definition of "private use" includes (according to the linked article) "any personal use of a work or use within a circle of persons closely connected to each other, such as relatives or friends" and "any use of a work by a teacher and his class for educational purposes".

It is still illegal to share copyrighted material using Bittorrent, because it works in a peculiar way: it does not simply download the files, but also uploads parts of it for other users of the network.

  • 6
    Is this a "joke answer"? The cost of living in Switzerland is higher than most other countries. Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 8:12
  • 2
    You can also move to Poland, that's way cheaper.
    – tomasz
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 8:13
  • 3
    @varun that's not usually a problem if you're earning a Swiss income...
    – Moriarty
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 8:39
  • 1
    @varun In case it wasn't clear, I don't recommend moving to Switzerland only to get textbooks. I just want to point out that in some countries downloading textbooks for study reasons is legal. (tomasz: I didn't know about Poland, thanks for the information). Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 12:47
  • 5
    @varun A better joke answer would be "Write the textbook!"
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 17:57

Search around. There are initiatives distributing free (even open source) textbooks, like Free Tech Books, there are many others. Ask friendly Google.

Some people arranged with their publisher to be able to distribute their books for free, like Anderson's "Security Engineering", I know of several others. (Yes, I own that book in paper too. Two editions, even. Worth every penny.) Sometimes you'll find that the book went out of print, and the author now distributes the last edition in electronic form.

Other than that, looking around you'll find (more or less) complete lecture notes. I'm partial to William Chen's notes on undergraduate mathematics, but there are many others. Quality (and completeness) obviously varies enormously, and sometimes you'll only find incomplete, short documents. Best of all is that rummaging around in the webpages for classes you'll often find homework and exams, likely with solutions.

If there is a (at least vaguely related) SE site, chances are that somebody already asked for free texts, search (or ask) there too.

For any more focused answers, you'll have to ask about precise contents.

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