Thursday, October 05, 2006

What People Read

The Koran, a guide to tropical flowers, a robot-building manual and a text on interest rates have topped an eclectic list of the most popular English titles found using Google Inc.'s growing book search tool.

The list, announced on Thursday and which also includes Noam Chomsky's critique of U.S. foreign policy, is the first time the Web search leader has disclosed a weekly snapshot of what users are viewing since it launched a controversial plan to digitally scan all the world's books two years ago.

Timed to coincide with the largest gathering of publishing executives at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Google list reveals an interest in lesser-known backlist titles, a stark contrast to those featured in the closely watched New York Times bestseller lists and's sales rankings.

The compilation could provide fresh regular insights into what the world is reading online, though Google said it has no plans to launch such a service.

"We thought this would be an interesting experiment to try for the Frankfurt Book Fair," a Google spokeswoman said.

Since the start of the year, the thesaurus has been the most viewed book in English, while a compilation of exotic baby names was the leading Spanish volume. A human resources guide has been the most popular for French readers and the Kama Sutra (an ancient Indian book on human sexual behavior) led the German-language list.

Google is using the weekly and year-to-date popularity lists to spotlight its book search program, which has drawn the ire of many large publishers, a group of whom have united to file a lawsuit alleging a violation of copyright law.


Some of the same publishers that oppose Google scanning books from libraries, and many others, voluntarily supply their books to be included in a separate Google partnership program.

Google Book Search allows users to see only sample pages from millions of books that have been scanned in their entirety with the permission of publishers, alongside links to where the titles can be bought.

Many publishers and book trade groups are also building their own digital repositories rather than entrust the task to Google, fearing their copyrighted material could one day be exploited as happened in the music industry.

For the week ended September 17, "Diversity and Evolutionary Biology of Tropical Flowers," "Merriam Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms" and "Measuring and Controlling Interest Rate and Credit Risk" were among the top 10 English books, along with "Build Your Own All-Terrain Robot" and Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance."

Math and anatomy texts were among the most popular volumes for French readers, while the top German language books were on the subjects of computing and U.S. counterintelligence.

An English dictionary and "Administracion moderna" reigned in Spanish while "Tre metri sopra il cielo" (an Italian best seller whose title means three meters above the sky) and the civil code topped the Italian list.

"While classics like the Divine Comedy are represented on the list, the most notable characteristic of the top 10 in each country is the fact that the lists bear little resemblance to national bestseller lists, including as it does both current and backlist titles," Google said.

By comparison, recent books by journalists Thomas Friedman, John Grogan and Frank Rich feature in the most recent New York Times hardcover non-fiction bestseller list.'s top sellers also include Chomsky's book -- which got a boost when it was endorsed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly -- as well as other Amazon top-sellers "Billion Dollar Smile" and "The God Delusion."

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited.