Some of the most bone-chilling books were written in the last two centuries—so we're bringing you a selection of old school reads. Best of all: You can download them for free.
Note: This article was last updated on 1/2/20. Check back soon for more free books that thrill and chill!
The Yellow Wallpaper
A groundbreaking feminist masterpiece and one of the most exquisite horror stories in American literature
Diagnosed by her physician husband with a “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency” after the birth of her child, a woman is urged to rest for the summer in an old colonial mansion. Forbidden from doing work, she spends her days in the house’s former nursery, with its barred windows, scratched floor, and peeling yellow wallpaper.
In a private journal, the woman records her growing obsession with the “horrid” wallpaper. Its strange pattern mutates in the moonlight, revealing what appears to be a human figure. Soon the woman resolves to unlock the mystery of the wallpaper. Her quest, however, leads not to the truth, but into the darkest depths of madness.
The premier monster story of English literature—a tale of science pursued to horrifying extremes
Mary Shelley's legendary tale of Victor Frankenstein and his unholy creation, and their obsessive, murderous pursuit of each other from Switzerland to the North Pole, has been the stuff of nightmares for nearly two centuries. A masterpiece of Romantic literature, Frankenstein is also a cautionary narrative of man's hubris run amok—and one of the most enduring horror stories ever written.
The Haunted House
The blood-chilling true story of a nineteenth-century girl’s terrifying and bewildering haunting
First published in 1879, The Haunted House: A True Ghost Story is the author’s account of the infamous haunting of eighteen-year-old Esther Cox, who lived with her extended family in Amherst, Nova Scotia—a beautiful, peaceful little village, population three thousand—during the late 1800s. Walter Hubbell stayed with the family for six weeks, during which he witnessed a variety of alternately compelling and terrifying paranormal and unexplained events.
Ten Days in a Mad-House
A courageous female journalist’s classic exposé of the horrific treatment of the mentally ill in nineteenth-century America
In 1887, Nellie Bly accepted an assignment from publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and went undercover at the lunatic asylum on Blackwell Island, America’s first municipal mental hospital. Calling herself “Nellie Brown,” she was able to convince policemen, a judge, and a series of doctors of her madness with a few well-practiced facial expressions of derangement.
At the institution, Bly discovered the stuff of nightmares. Mentally ill patients were fed rotten, inedible food; violently abused by a brutal, uncaring staff; and misdiagnosed, mistreated, or generally ignored by the doctors and so-called mental health experts entrusted with their care. To her horror, Bly encountered sane patients who had been committed on the barest of pretenses and came to the shocking realization that, while the Blackwell Island asylum was remarkably easy to get into, it was nearly impossible to leave.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
James’s tales of the terror that hides beneath the prosaic continue to stun more than a century after they were written
This collection features some of M. R. James’s greatest tales of the supernatural world crossing over into our own. In “Number 13,” an inn that previously belonged to an alchemist changes dimensions in the night. “The Mezzotint” features a painting of a house reenacting a gruesome scene from the house’s history. In “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas,” an antiquary who has discovered the location of a treasure gets far more than he bargained for.
At the Mountains of Madness
This classic mind-shattering tale, which “ranks high among the horror stories of the English language,” plunges into the darkness of the Cthulhu mythos (Time)
In the uncharted wastes of Antarctica, an exploration party from Miskatonic University encounters a gory sight when they discover their advance team’s camp has been destroyed and its members slaughtered. There is no evidence of what happened except a series of burial mounds, six of which contain dead specimens of unknown species. Eight similar tombs are empty, but they haven’t been broken into—they’ve been broken out of.
Related: 11 Books for Fans of H.P. Lovecraft
What began as a search for knowledge soon becomes a terrifying confrontation with the true nature of the world and the universe in all its stark blackness and unyielding oblivion.
The War of the Worlds
H. G. Wells’s groundbreaking novel of visitors from another realm remains one of the most chilling, unforgettable works ever written
At the turn of the twentieth century, few would believe that mankind is being watched from above. But millions of miles from Earth, the lords of the Red Planet prepare their armies for invasion, waiting for the moment to strike. When they land in the English countryside, baffled humans approach, waving white flags, and the Martians burn them to a crisp. The war has begun, and mankind doesn’t stand a chance. As Martian armies roll across England, one man fights to keep his family safe, risking his life—and his sanity—on the front lines of the greatest war in galactic history.
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