Michael Hart, inventor of the ebook, dies

Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg and a pioneer in formatting print material for online use, passed away Tuesday at his home in Urbana, Illinois. A self-described "unreasonable" thinker, according to his obituary at Project Gutenberg, Hart invented the ebook in 1971.

Ebooks may now be the hottest game in town for magazines looking to make a profit from long-form journalism, but their progenitor was far more interested in their non-commercial potential. Hart's first ebook was a version of the Declaration of Independence that he typed into the computer himself. His initial goal was to digitize 10,000 books; Gutenberg now offers access to more than 36,000 titles, without registration or fee. You can read everything from Bram Stoker's Dracula to John Ruskin's The Poetry of Architecture to Dante's illustrated Divine Comedy to George Elliot's Middlemarch to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

Hart campaigned against extensions of U.S. copyright (the majority of the books in Project Gutenberg are from prior to 1920, and therefore in the public domain; the few that still fall under copyright strictures were released into the public domain with the permission of the copyright holders). And in a refreshingly non-promotional stance, Hart eschewed any form of advertising and firmly stuck with the low-tech interfaces. As a 1997 Wired profile of Hart notes, Hart's low-profile outlook sometimes hamstrung the reach of the Gutenberg project. "Funders tend to be interested in projects that use state-of-the-art technology or advance knowledge, or that create something new and exciting," Ann Bishop of University of Illinois told Wired at the time.

"One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air," Hart wrote in July of this year. "Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job."

Via: Maud Newton