Friday, September 09, 2011

Michael S. Hart, Project Gutenberg Founder, Dead at 64

Michael Stern Hart
Michael S. Hart, the man credited with having invented the e-book (in 1971), but probably best known as the founder of the wonderful Project Gutenberg, is dead at age 64.  Mr. Hart was found dead at his home on September 6 after having suffered an apparent heart attack.

Details can be found at this full length Washington Post obituary:
Mr. Hart cobbled together a living with the money he earned as an adjunct professor and with grants and donations to Project Gutenberg. But he led a life of near poverty, Kahle said, and “basically lived off of cans of beans.”
Kahle and other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.
The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.
I, of course, knew nothing of Mr. Hart or his personal life until I read the Washington Post obituary I've linked to this post.  But...I will always remember how excited I was when I first discovered Project Gutenberg, and how I downloaded books directly to floppy discs so that I could carry them with me when I traveled on extended business trips.  The man was a true pioneer - and I only wish I had bothered to tell him that while he was with us.


  1. I read about Mr. Hart on the Amazon boards. Like you, I knew nothing of him but feel his impact almost everyday.
    What a lasting legacy he leaves.

    PS... I see you're reading Henning Mankell. What are your thoughts? I've never read him but we're reading him in my mystery group for October.

  2. There are so many more ways to measure the success of a life than how much money it produced. While I'm seriously worried about the decline of bookstores, I do appreciate the goal of making great literature available to everyone for free. Project Gutenburg is quite a legacy to leave.

  3. It's fascinating how someone you've never really heard of can have a big impact on your personal life. This was one of those men.

    I'm not sure what to think about Henning Mankell right now. The book has large sections devoted to Chinese history that are fairly boringly presented...the rest of it involves an intriguing international mass murder. Not sure which part will win out yet.

  4. I totally agree, James. The man has a magnificent legacy. We should all be so productive...

  5. Project Gutenberg is asking for donations in Mr. Hart's honor to sustain his life's work.