How To Find A Book Without Knowing The Title Or Author

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ThumbnailAs an avid book lover, this is a problem I have been beset with more often than I can care to remember. Devouring books by the dozen, since my wonder years, has alas filled up the memory chip in my brain. I have to really wrack my brain sometimes to remember a book or to cite a quote from some book I had read. Believe me, it’s one of the tip of the tongue moments I hate.

In the good ol’ days we could only depend on eureka moments, when the bulb flashed and we got the name right. Well these are better days because we need not wait for the bulb to light up anymore. We have instant recall in the form of the World Wide Web. The Internet is an information sponge that has even your local librarian beat.

A visit to the local library isn’t such a bad idea but if you can’t wait for it open then plug into the web. It’s open 24 hours a day. By the way, a lot of libraries now also have online catalogs.

Let’s start with our friendly normal search engine

When we don’t remember (and even if we do) the name of book, author, or the characters in it, the search engine is usually the first port of call. What is true for any generic search is true to finding a book without knowing the name and the author too ““ it’s called keywords.

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how to find a book without title or author

In case of a forgotten title or author, we have to remember and go back to anything we can use from the book. It could be the name of a character, a line of dialog he said, or any opening lines. More specific the phrase, the better would be the result. All rules of a normal search apply (for instance, for exact searches put it in quotes).

Let’s move on to Google Book Search

Google Books has scanned and indexed entire books (7 million till November 2008) using OCR in its database and now presents it for online viewing. The Advanced Search Page is a powerful tool to get to an obscure title.

From keyword search to using filters like subject, publisher, language, publication date, ISBN and ISSN numbers (you aren’t going to remember these two!), the ways are many.  With the search, you will get results with the keywords. Click on the on the link or thumbnail to access an entire copy or a limited preview.

how to find a book without title or author

Even if you do not get the book, you might come across a reference which may lead you to the answer.

Other search engines of note

WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. You can search the database of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. You can search for a book and then locate it at a nearby library. Membership of the library allows you to check out the item online.

BookFinder : try the advanced search engine of this website which indexes 150 million new, old, rare and out of print books. The advanced search options have a search by keyword field.

A9: the Amazon powered search engine has an open search and an A9 Product Search which queries the thousands of products available with Amazon worldwide. Also, powers the search behind Amazon’s ground-breaking Search Inside! book service. To find an obscure book, Amazon is a good place to head for.

Rummage around in Amazon

Not exactly”¦you don’t have to search haphazardly as Amazon has a basic search and an advanced search which can give you the book you are looking for. After all, if the world’s largest online retailer doesn’t sell it then who else will?

The basic search is actually not basic. Amazon calls it Search Inside! â„¢. Search Inside! returns results by comparing the query with the inside text of each and every book in its database. Search Inside! results are combined with results that match the title and/or author of the book. It works pretty much similar to a phrase search we use with search engines. Type in your remembered clue and click Go.

how to find a book without title or author

For each match, Amazon displays the page number and a selection where it has struck your search phrase. Click this page number link to view the actual pages where the result occurs using the Amazon Online Reader (a sign-in is required to use the reader).

To dig deeper you can use the Search Inside This Book field box.

how to find a book without knowing the title

Amazon’s Advanced Search is similar to Google’s advanced book search. But you get a lot more additional filters like Reader Age and Publication Date.

how to find a book without knowing the title

In a similar way you can use the advanced search functions of most online book sites. Another one worth a look is Barnes & Noble, Biblio or W.H Smith.

Ask and Answers Websites

This is a great way to tap into the collective memory of the large internet population. Most well intentioned book sites have forums or book clubs. Apart from getting recommendations, one can use this to jog each other’s brain cells about a forgotten title.


how to find a book without knowing the title

We return to another Amazon service, a community site where one can ask and get answers in discussion boards centered around lots of topics. Books, are of course one. And if you are there, please help out others with similar points and garner some experience points. If you want to ask or answer a question, you will need to register (for free) or use your Amazon login.

Bookclubs from Barnes & Noble

find a book by summary

Barnes & Noble has a comprehensive community board centered on books. One particular community is on Lost Books. Create a free account and fire away your query.

Yahoo Answers

find a book by summary

As of 2008, the Q&A service has nearly 135 million users and 500 million answers worldwide and it’s growing at a rate of 11 million new answers per month just in the U.S. There’s a category on Books & Authors. The process is ““ login with your Yahoo ID ““ Click on Ask to frame your question ““ Categorize your question from the suggestions ““ Preview your question and submit. For an answer notification, you can select Email me when I receive a new answer or Add this question to my messenger status.

In a similar way you can use other community knowledge sharing websites. Try out Answerbag, or Answers, if the above three fail.

There are of course many other ways to search for a book without a title or author. We can try out social media search. Even do a Twitter search. The good thing is book lovers abound everywhere and the fraternity is amazingly co-operative. We can always find them closeted together in some group or community. Facebook alone has over 500 groups within the common interest groups for books.

Will’s post on 4 Great Sites to Do a Book Search by Plot or Subject is also worth a bookmark for the four book recommendation sites he mentions.

With due apologies to the authors, sometimes we do forget their names or even the titles. But it’s a credit to these wordsmiths that we remember some snippets. Memories may dull but the web is there to sharpen it for us again. And usually discovering a long lost book is sometimes like recovering a lost treasure.

Do you have such hair tearing moments when the book’s title or author escapes you? How do you get what’s lost in memory back?

Image Credit: Ninha Morandini

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17 Comments - Write a Comment



Or ask a librarian, they know everything!


Sometimes they also don’t. But usually they should be the first we should consult. Most libraries also have their own computerized databases which are starting points.



Libraries are open 24/7 now. Find a list of 24/7 library services @


What’s the point of that? If you don’t know the title nor the author and as it’s been pointed out already, librarians often don’t have the answer, then what is the 24/7 going to do?

Besides, there are actually very few 24/7 libraries in contrast to all the libraries in the nation. A large population of citizens will not be able to use one.



Readers advisor librarians are the best resource. Also Reader’s Advisor Online lets user enter any combination of genre, subgenre, character names, settings, topics, eras, etc. and comes up with lists of possibilities.


But it is not free, it it? It requires a subscription.



Readers advisor librarians are the best resource. Also Reader’s Advisor Online lets user enter any combination of genre, subgenre, character names, settings, topics, eras, etc. and comes up with lists of possibilities. Many libraries subscribe to it.



I have to say that for a one-time-only $5 membership fee, askmefi is simply amazing! I cannot tell you how helpful it’s been for me. I’ve posted quite a few questions with great answers. Yahoo Answers and all the other ones just aren’t nearly as great as askmefi.

After reading your article, I was once again reminded of the elusive book I’ve been searching for, for years. I tried all of these searches today. I spent a lot of time on it.

I went to askmefi and within 5 minutes, I had my answer. It is an obscure book that was difficult to find.

This is my post, if anyone is interested.



As you said it yourself – “I will ever find this book, is if someone else has read it and knows what I’m talking about.” :)
The end justifies the means…at $5 askmefi is dirt cheap and looks good.



If you are looking for a textbook, you can go to and type in the ISBN. If it’s a main book published by Cengage Learning, South-Western, Delmar, Course Technology, Wadsworth, Brooks-Cole, Houghton-Mifflin, or Heinle it will often find the book right away, and if it is a supplement like a study guide or published by a different publisher it will look it up via an aggregator and find links to other online sources that carry that ISBN, with the lowest prices listed.


Thanks for the info, Jordan!



The author of the piece must have spent his life under a rock. Libraries have had ways of finding books by subject since the 19th century.


Mary, let’s not always assume that there’s only ONE way to get some information…especially in today’s day and age. We all know the obvious and if you would have cared to read the article from start to finish, I have mentioned that librarians are the best guys for it. But there can be other ways too, isn’t it? And when the WWW is the biggest knowledge bank out there, why not tap into it occasionally. Constructive comments like magnoliasouth helps way more.



People use our site (funadvice) this way, too, though we get more questions on songs than books…I think it’s a result of our demographics. :)


Hi Jeremy!

Your site does sound promising. I flipped through a few questions and answers and it appears that most are truly helpful answers.

The problem with Q&A sites are that people end up giving UNhelpful time wasting advice. Yahoo Answers, even though it goes on a point system, has this problem pretty badly.

Example: I once asked a question about my daughters college. They accepted her for admission and she received a Pell grant for her financial aide (which was a tremendous help). She only had to go down to the financial aide office and verify her earnings with her tax forms. She was told she had to make an appointment, but every appointment she made was canceled by them. When it got close to time for school, she finally just sat at the office for three days waiting to get in. On the first day of school, she was told to come back in Spring! Can you believe it?

Anyway, so my q


Sorry, somehow I hit enter. :(

So my question to Yahoo was, “What kind of legal action can I take?” I posted it in the legal section of Yahoo.

I got answers like, “maybe your daughter was lying to you” or “she shouldn’t have waited until the last day of school.” You see what I mean? Completely UNhelpful advice and a waste of my time.

I’m not sure I’ll even go back, even though I have >400 points (I believe).

In case anyone is wondering, I called the Governor’s office. He in turn actually called the College President who called me and escorted my daughter to financial aide. She is presently in college. :)



Someone’s a Guzzi fan… ;)

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