Blogs > Cliopatria > History and Culture: Library List

Dec 4, 2004 3:09 am

History and Culture: Library List

OCLC Top 1000 books in library collections! [via Crooked Timber] Obviously, any book on this list is widely available, very popular. Still, it's kind of fun to sift through it. Of course, I'm going to scan for History, Asia (and science fiction). The bulk of the list, almost half, was fiction. Religious texts were strong in the top ranks, too.


  • The first history book, Plutarch's Lives, clocks in at #48
  • Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars was #512
  • Tacitus' Annals was #792.
  • Machiavelli's The Prince, which is one of the first pieces of Early Modern European analytical social science comes in at #58.
  • Tabari's History of Prophets and Kings is ranked #106, and I've never heard of it (the first one on the list I hadn't heard of), but it seems to be a comprehensive Islamic history in dozens of volumes.
  • Charles Schulz' Peanuts was all the way up at #70 (though it was dwarfed, ranking-wise, by Garfield #18), and Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury ranked #80, probably also by virtue of the multiple titles under that rubric. Still, that's august company.
  • Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ranked 110th and Durant's Story of Philosophy was 529th
  • Thucydides and Herodotus came in at #114 and #116 respectively, just beating out Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons.


  • H.G. Wells' Time Machine (#225) came after Marx's Capital (#193) but ahead of his Communist Manifesto (#234)
  • Well's War of the Worlds beat out Columbus' Log but not Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby (#308-310)
  • his Outline of History was at 549 but it still beat L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics (#562), not to mention Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples (#615); Invisible Man was #820.
  • English history was also represented by Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (#714).


  • Commager's Documents of American History made #358.
  • The US Constitution made #257, losing out to Harry Potter v.1, but the Federalist Papers were #75 so it's not a total loss.
  • Joseph Nathan Kane's Facts About the Presidents was #843, and the Encyclopedia of American History was #990, so the US is pretty well covered.
  • The highest ranking living historian I could find was #810: David G. McCullough's John Adams.


  • Hitler's Mein Kampf (#429) lost out to Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak (#423, 424) but not by much.
  • Joseph Goebbels' Diaries also made the list (#860).
  • William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was only #782, so Hitler's p.o.v. is much better represented than any historical counterpoint.
  • Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl was #61 on the list, though.
  • WWII was the only modern war which was represented on the list by anything other than fiction, general histories or reference works.


  • Ayn Rand's Fountainhead only made #576; Atlas Shrugged was #819.
  • John Kenneth Galbraith's Great Crash 1929 was edged out by Burgess' Clockwork Orange (#786-787).
  • Alex Haley's Roots came in about even with Jacob Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (#715, 719).
  • Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time just beat out the first Harry Potter (#250 v. #256), both of which were much more popular than Tim Lahaye's apocalyptic Left Behind (#620).
  • Erasmus' Praise of Folly fell between Camus' Stranger and Kafka's Trial (#298-300).

Asia was reasonably well represented:

  • India had #21 (Bhagavadgita; well, it's the holy book of about a billion people), #188 (Upanishads), and #334 ( E. M. Forster, Passage to India).
  • China's classical tradition was covered: Confucius (#153), the I Ching (#353), Taoists Laozi (#52) and Zhuangzi (#666), Sunzi's Art of War(#344) and, practically modern literature by comparison, Xueqin Cao's Dream of the Red Chamber (#865).
  • Only one Japanese author made the list,"Murasaki Shikibu" for Tale of Genji (#668); but Japan was also the subject of Sullivan and Gilbert's Mikado (#878), Hersey's Hiroshima (#333) and Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (#883) (no, it isn't, I know that).
  • There was also:
    • the Handbook of Korea (#871)
    • Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow (#958)
    • and the ever-annoying Marco Polo (185).

How long will it take someone to add checkboxes to the list so that we can catalog and quantify our erudition? Now, someone has to actually analyze this data.....

Update: Ask, and ye shall receive.... the good folks at OCLC contacted HNN to let us know that there is a downloadable spreadsheet version of the Top 1000 list here for anyone who wants to create their own checklist. I'm still hoping someone will turn it into a web-test. They also posted a list of almost two hundred"runners up" who were close to the threshold: the original list stops with a book held in 5074 libraries; this list goes down to 4693. And history came out really well in this set:

  • Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August (#1007, so close!), so we can add WWI to the list of wars with some coverage.
  • C.W.Ceram's history of archaeology, Gods, Graves and Scholars made #1017 (and may be the only historiography on the list).
  • David McCullough's Truman made #1046, making him the only living historian to appear twice
  • Francis Parkman's France and England in America was #1065; combined with McCullough, substantial additions to the US history literature. C. Vann Woodward's Strange Career of Jim Crow (#1119) and Zinn's People's History of the United States (#1135) were pretty notable omissions from the original list, too.
  • Elie Wiesel's Night finally showed up (#1068), which gives a little more balance to the Holocaust material.
  • Irving Stone's biography of Michaelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstacy brings the art and art history categories together at #1084.
  • Plutarch gets another one in, this time Moralia (#1104).
  • Henry Adams' Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres wasn't far behind (#1107) (though it wasn't far ahead of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (#1109), either).
  • John K. Fairbank's United States and China (#1117) is a very welcome addition to the Asian history category.

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More Comments:

Don Williams - 11/28/2004

Our Constitution is based upon the Founders' understanding of political philosophy --which in turn depended upon the empirical data of history. Especially the history of the Roman Republic.

Yet this list does not have Sallust, Polybius, Appian,etc. And it omits the best works of Cicero and
Caesar's Commentary on the Civil War.

Of course, the same could be said of Mortimer Adler's Great Books series --but Alder had to publish the books on his list, versus merely listing their title.

This list is also deficient re works of political philosophy directly relevent to US government -- Locke, Hume,etc. Hilarious, given that Hobbes' "Leviathan" is on the list. On the other hand, maybe not --given recent political developments.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/28/2004

Bummer. OK, another project goes on the list, unless one of my favorite Islamologist (I can't use "Islamist" anymore; what else can I call you, collectively?) bloggers gets there first.

Hala Fattah - 11/27/2004

Yep to the second question. There is no abridgement that I know of. But try googling Al-Tabari. You'll find a mishmash of stuff but I think there are some valuable articles on al-Tabari on the net.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/27/2004

That it's available at nearly no cost helps (I think that also partially accounts for the high rankings of the Bhagavad Gita and Book of Mormon). It's also a fantastic research tool, for students of all ages. The full list included a number of other encyclopedia and reference works.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/27/2004

That has to rank as one of the most surprising things on the list, I think. I hate to admit to asking for shortcuts, but is there a good summary or abridgement which a non-specialist could get something out of? Or is this something that us old fogies out of grad school are just going to have to spend a summer on?

Richard Henry Morgan - 11/27/2004

The high position of Census materials derives, I believe, from the fact that many libraries in the OCLC have been given copies of Census materials by the federal government under the lgislation related to the Federal Depository Libraries System.

Adam Kotsko - 11/27/2004

The top ten had two surprises for me: first, that the Bible wasn't #1; second, that Lord of the Rings was #10. It's kind of boring that the US Census would be #1 -- more boring even than the Bible being #1.

Hala Fattah - 11/27/2004

Hi Jonathan,
Al-Tabari is to Islamic History what Gibbon is to European history, except that al-Tabari was more learned and less biased than Gibbon (especially about the rest of the world). Al-Tabari is the chief work of history you read as a beginning graduate student in medieval Islamic/Arab history. His masterpiece was so influential that several historians were commisioned to translate his many volumes into the English language.