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Gutenberg, dammit

By Allison Parrish

Gutenberg, dammit is a corpus of every plaintext file in Project Gutenberg (up until June 2016), organized in a consistent fashion, with (mostly?) consistent metadata. The intended purpose of the corpus is to make it really easy to do creative things with this wonderful and amazing body of freely-available text.

Download the corpus here.

The name of the corpus was inspired by Leonard Richardson's Unicode, dammit.

Code in this repository relies on the data prepared by the GutenTag project (Brooke 2015) and the code is partially based on the GutenTag source code.

NOTE: Not all of the works in Project Gutenberg are in the public domain. Check the Copyright Status field in the metadata for each work you plan on using to be sure. I believe that all of the files in the corpus are redistributable, but it might not be okay for you to "reuse" any works in the corpus that are not in the public domain.

Working with the corpus

The gutenbergdammit.ziputils module has some functions for working with the corpus file in situ using Python's zipfile library, so you don't even have to decompress the file and make a big mess on your hard drive. You can copy/paste these functions, use them as a reference in your own implementation, or use them directly by installing this package from the repo:

pip install

First, download the ZIP archive and put it in the same directory as your Python code. Then, to (e.g.) retrieve the text of one particular file from the corpus:

>>> from gutenbergdammit.ziputils import retrieve_one
>>> text = retrieve_one("", "123/12345.txt")
>>> text[:50]
'[Illustration: "I saw there something missing from'

To retrieve the metadata file:

>>> from gutenbergdammit.ziputils import loadmetadata
>>> metadata = loadmetadata("")
>>> metadata[456]['Title']
['Essays in the Art of Writing']

To search for and retrieve files whose metadata contains particular strings:

>>> from gutenbergdammit.ziputils import searchandretrieve
>>> for info, text in searchandretrieve("", {'Title': 'Made Easy'}):
...     print(info['Title'][0], len(text))
Entertaining Made Easy 108314
Reading Made Easy for Foreigners - Third Reader 209964
The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined 262990
Shaving Made Easy	What the Man Who Shaves Ought to Know 44982
Writing and Drawing Made Easy, Amusing and Instructive	Containing The Whole Alphabet in all the Characters now	us'd, Both in Printing and Penmanship 10036
Etiquette Made Easy 119770


The corpus is arranged as multiple subdirectories, each with the first three digits of the number identifying the Gutenberg book. Plain text files for each book whose ID begins with those digits are located in that directory. For example, the book with Gutenberg ID 12345 has the relative path 123/12345.txt. This path fragment is present in the metadata for each file as the gd-path attribute; see below for more details. (Splitting up the files like this is intended to be a compromise that makes accessing each file easy while making life a little bit easier if you're poking around with your file browsing application or ls.)

The files themselves have had Project Gutenberg boilerplate headers and footers stripped away for your convenience. (The code used to strip the boilerplate is copied from GutenTag.) You may want to do your own sanity check on individual files of importance to guarantee that they have the contents you think they should have.


The gutenberg-metadata.json file in the zip is a big JSON file with metadata on each book. The is a list of JSON objects with the following format:

    "Author": [ "Robert Carlton Brown" ],
    "Author Birth": [ 1886 ],
    "Author Death": [ 1959 ],
    "Author Given": [ "Robert Carlton" ],
    "Author Surname": [ "Brown" ],
    "Copyright Status": [ "Not copyrighted in the United States." ],
    "Language": [ "English" ],
    "LoC Class": [ "SF: Agriculture: Animal culture" ],
    "Num": "14293",
    "Subject": [ "Cookery (Cheese)", "Cheese" ],
    "Title": [ "The Complete Book of Cheese" ],
    "charset": "iso-8859-1",
    "gd-num-padded": "14293",
    "gd-path": "142/14293.txt",
    "href": "/1/4/2/9/14293/"

The capitalized fields correspond to the fields in the official Project Gutenberg metadata, with information about the author broken out into the birth/death/given/surname fields when possible. Fields are presented as lists to accommodate books that (e.g.) have more than one author or title.

The lower-case fields are metadata specific to this corpus, explained below:

  • charset: The character set of the original file. All of the files in the ZIP are in UTF-8 encoding, so this is only helpful if (e.g.) you're using the metadata to refer back to the original file on the Gutenberg website.
  • gd-num-padded: The book number ("Gutenberg ID") left-padded to five digits with zeros.
  • gd-path: The path to the file inside the Gutenberg Dammit zip file, to be appended to the gutenberg-dammit-files/ directory present in the zip file itself.
  • href: The path to the file in the original GutenTag corpus.

NOTE: Not all records have every field, and not every field is guaranteed to be non-empty.

What was included, what was left out

First off, Gutenberg, dammit is based on files from Project Gutenberg, and doesn't include files from any of the related international projects (e.g. Project Gutenberg Canada, Project Gutenberg Australia).

Only Gutenberg items with plaintext files are included in this corpus. It doesn't include audiobooks, and it doesn't include any books only available in text formats other than plaintext (e.g., PDF or HTML).

In some cases, documents that are primarily available in some non-plaintext format will include a "stub" text file that just tells the reader to look at the other file. No attempt has been made to systematically exclude these from the present corpus.

Project Gutenberg includes a number of documents with content that is offensive. Given their possible academic and historical value, no effort has been made to systematically exclude these documents from this corpus. Please take care when including such documents (and portions thereof) in any analysis or creative reinterpretations. Just because a book is in the public domain doesn't mean you always have a right to use its words.

Character encodings

The included text files are all encoded as UTF-8. When decoding from Project Gutenberg, decoding is first attempted using the encoding declared in the file's metadata; if that decoding doesn't work, chardet's detect function is used to determine the most likely encoding, and that encoding is used instead. If Python still raises an error when attempting to decode using chardet's guess, ISO-8859-1 is tried as a last resort. If none of this worked, then the file is left out of the archive.

How to Gutenberg, dammit from scratch

If you just want to use the corpus, don't bother with any of the content that follows. If you want to be able to recreate the process of how I made the corpus, read on.

The scripts in this repository work on the files prepared by GutenTag. In order to use the scripts, you'll need to download their corpus ("Our (full) Project Gutenberg Corpus", ~7 GB ZIP file) and unzip it into a directory on your system.

The included package gutenbergdammit/ is designed to be used as a command-line script. Run it on the command line like so:

python -m --src-path=<path to your gutentag download> \
    --dest-path=output --metadata-file=output/gutenberg-metadata.json \

Help on the options:

Usage: [options]

-h, --help            show this help message and exit
-s SRC_PATH, --src-path=SRC_PATH
                        path to GutenTag dump
-d DEST_PATH, --dest-path=DEST_PATH
                        path to output (will be created if it doesn't exist)
                        path to metadata file for output (will be overwritten)
-l LIMIT, --limit=LIMIT
                        limit to n entries (good for testing)
-o OFFSET, --offset=OFFSET
                        start at index n (good for testing)

The --limit and --offset options are not required, and, if omitted, the tool will default to processing the entire archive.

Notes on implosion

Python's zipfile module doesn't support the compression algorithm used on some of the files in the Gutenberg archive ("implosion"). Whoops. Included in the repository is a script that unzips and re-zips these files using a modern compression algorithm. To run it:

python -m gutenbergdammit.findbadzips --src-path=<gutentag_dump> --fix

This will modify the ~100 files in your GutenTag dump with broken ZIP compression, and save copies of the originals (with -orig at the end of the filename). Leave off --fix to do a dry run (i.e., just show which files are bad, don't fix them).

To use this script, you'll need to have the zip and unzip binaries on your system and in your path. It also probably assumes UNIX-ey paths (i.e., separated with slashes), but a lot of stuff in here does. Pull requests welcome.

Next steps

  • Rework this process so it can construct a similarly-organized archive starting with a straight-up mirror of Project Gutenberg (rather than the GutenTag corpus, which is a combination of the 2010 DVD ISO and I think more recent entries collected via web scraping?)
  • Implement a process for adding newer files to the corpus (by looking at the RSS feed?)
  • Make the corpus zip file into a torrent or something so I'm not paying for every download

Works cited

Brooke, Julian, et al. “GutenTag: An NLP-Driven Tool for Digital Humanities Research in the Project Gutenberg Corpus.” CLfL@ NAACL-HLT, 2015, pp. 42–47.

Version history

  • v0.0.2 (2018-08-11): Fixed character encoding problems and released new version of the archive with resulting encodings
  • v0.0.1 (2018-08-10): Initial release.


In accordance with GutenTag's license:

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.


I wanted all of plaintext Project Gutenberg in an easy-to-use format, so I made this



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