Eric Baker | Essays

Free Books

Over the last several weeks, in preparation for an office move, I've been weeding out books from my over-filled shelves. We all know what a pain moving is, and so the question I asked everyday was: “Do I really need this?” 

First, there were the books that I answered with “This one I really don’t need”; then the “No, not this one either”; then came the “These are just too Goddamn heavy”; and finally, the books that had come from our publishing clients for various projects, long since past. Many of the books I have had for years: research books, odd-subject books (17th century French engravings, Persian bronzes, Ethiopian weavings, dental techniques from the '50s), photo reference books, design annuals, art books, magazines, biographies, how-to books, marketing books, fiction and non-fiction. These were books saved just because they were books. Of course, today (when we can find any image, any fact in an instant) they feel like artifacts from a different era.


We put about six, overflowing library carts on the street in front of my office (23rd Street between Broadway and Madison in New York City). Construction workers, investment bankers, students, shop people and various passers-by, stopped, browsed and walked away with a book or two. We watched over 600 books disappear.

A typical New York street scene.

It is particularly interesting in this time of radical change — in the world of publishing, Kindle's and E-Readers — to see all the different types of people giving these books new homes. Everyone loves a good book, of course, but let's not forget that the books were FREE!

These are photographs from of our little experiment.

Posted in: Media

Comments [17]

great article. i recently had the same experience w/ vhs tapes. its amazing what people will take when its free.

Wish I got the memo earlier!
Evan MacDonald

Great idea give a new home for books, I also have my shelves overloaded and did not want to get rid of them, I think that just because are books, and let it the dust build up, I loved your idea, and I put into practice now.
A hug from Chile


I've given away lots of my books and old magazines in the past few years. I've dumped them into a local library return slot.
Buying a magazine (or a book) today is equal to committing an eco crime.

Well, I still enjoy sitting in sofa "browsing" through a book rather than looking at the screen of my laptop.. I even print out some interesting things.. and reading stories from laptop? you must be kidding...
Although I really rethink every reason for buying some book, I wouldn't call it ecocrime at all.

I donate my old books to the library of the hospital where I work in Barcelona- Spain, so inpatients can have them or read them while staying in the hospital. The same library also allows to exchange them with other staff's donated books in certain dates of the year....
Susana Rodriguez

I will need to de-accession about 200 books this summer. I'll definitely take quick portraits of the books and their adopters. I'll post the results on my blog: emilygallardo.typepad.com/the_view_from_here
Free Books

if you move into a condo or an apartment house sometimes they let you donate books and cds to a community clubhouse if they are in good shape and they don't have to take too much care. If you volunteer to take care of the book shelves it's kinda a weening process from your own books.


Lucky people, there's a couple of books there that I wouldn't have minded having a quick look through. Books still have their place, as I along with many others still find it easier to read from a book than from a computer screen. I think when electronic book technology is more of a replication of a traditional book, then I'll give away mine in the street too!
Michael Angrave

I brought 20 books to work with me and put a little post-it note on them that said: PLEASE TAKE WHATEVER YOU WANT. Most of the books were novels that I had read and didn't like, or they were duplicates of books that I had read and really liked, such as Remainder by Tom McCarthy and Darkmans by Nicola Barker. By the end of the day every single book was still there. I brought them again the next day and put them right next to the coffee machine. Again, no one wanted any of the books, and I even sweetened the deal by putting a copy of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, 1rst Edition Hardback, on top. I work in a law office with 27 people and NOT ONE PERSON wanted one of my books. Maybe this is because I live in Los Angeles.

I love love love that you took pictures of the books with their new owners thus giving us a chance to make up stories about who these people are and why they're pickup up Rich Dad Poor Dad or Business at the Speed of Though or Living With Art.

What a brilliant marketing ploy. I love it.
Nick Heaton

I wonder how many books advertised in this site's right-hand column will end up on a trolley with a sign saying "Free Books" ten years from now. And will a Stefan Saigmeister book make a guy in a hard hat smile?
Peter Rogers

Amazing article about free books. Its really cool news, i liked it
Rick Braun

I like the hat which belongs to the guy wearing the NY t-shirt. Awesome. Free books are a good idea: I have a few I should give away which I am not making the most of!

I totally did this when I was leaving my apartment in Korea. I had all these books, and decided to give them away (granted, I placed them in the lobby rather than out on the street for passersby). The guard tells me that the lady on the 5th floor came along and took the entire box-full. So. Selfish.

great idea! i think many of us have books just sitting there on the bookshelves, wihtout beig read.

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