A 19th century French translation of the Kamasutra, the ancient tome to erotic love by Indian Vatsyayana, is currently the most downloaded of all e-books on an Internet website that provides 20,000 books for free and gets some two million hits each month.
The translation is by Pierre Eugene Lamairesse.
The website, www.gutenberg.net, also allows for the download of two Sanskrit translations of Sri Vishnu Sahasranaamam, by Karthik Krishnan and N. Srinivasan.
Michael Hart was still a student in 1971 at the University of Illinois when he started the project after obtaining access to a mainframe computer. Through friendly operators, he received an account with a virtually unlimited computer time valued at $100 million. Hart said he wanted to "give back" this gift by doing something that could be considered to be of great value.
This particular mainframe was one of the 15 nodes on a computer network that would later become the Internet. Hart believed that computers would one day be accessible to the general public and decided to make works of literature available in electronic form for free.
He named the project for Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th century German printer who propelled the printing press revolution.
Today, there are some 20,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalogue. The project also allows for the free download of books on a Palm organiser or smart phone. It estimates that some two million books are downloaded each month.
This project has also spawned the Distributed Proofreaders Network that allowed the proofreading of scanned texts to be distributed among many volunteers over the Internet.
Project Gutenberg's web pages have won a number of awards and have often being featured in "Best of the Web" listings. Some 50 new e-books are added to the project, each week.
Besides English, which dominates, the other popular languages are French, German, Finnish, Dutch, and Spanish.
There is no selection policy dictating what texts to add. Instead, individual volunteers work on what they are interested in, or have available.