What Books Were We Reading in 1995?

Gabe Habash -- August 16th, 2012

One of the hidden gems in Amazon’s vast metropolis is its bestselling books of the year, which combines all the daily bestseller charts for the year into one big list representing that calendar year’s top-selling books. The feature, luckily for us, goes back to 1995. Let’s take a look at whether our online book buying habits in the time of America Online and what Wikipedia says was the rejuvenation of “the hippie look” were foolish or smart.

Amazon’s top 10 books in 1995 were:

1. How to Set Up and Maintain a World Wide Web Site: The Guide for Information Providers by Lincoln D. Stein

2. A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos

3. Brightness Reef by David Brin

4. Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway by Clifford Stoll

5. The Dark and Deadly Pool by Joan Lowery Nixon

6. Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte

7. Learning the Unix Operating System by Jerry Peek

8. Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics by Edward Rothstein

9. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas R. Hofstadter

10. The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Inspired International Recipes

There are a few things this list tells us. Namely, that the world hadn’t started using online shopping yet–that explains the narrow range of topics. Also: the most common Amazon customer was already familiar with web technology (or aspired to be), or was a vegetarian David Brin fan. In fact, over a quarter of the top 100 were either directly or indirectly related to technology–meaning people (or at least the average 1995 Amazon user) took to the web to learn more about the web. This included a huge boon for sci-fi or fiction with a technology angle, as the top 100 saw books like Isaac Asimov’s Gold and Greg Egan’s Permutation City (“Someone has blocked the bail-out option. And you know who did it. You did. The other you. The real you. The one that wants to keep you here forever.”) placing highly.

But what about other highlights on the list? Here’s a rundown.

-Bill Gates’s The Road Ahead was the #12 bestselling book of the year. In case you want to catch the fever, there’s still time: here are 50 copies selling for a penny, and a couple more selling for double that.

-Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid was #15, meaning a lot of people were really concerned about looking smart.

-A Dilbert book topped a Calvin and Hobbes book.

-Just enough people read The Art of War for it to beat out the book immediately behind it, a guide to cooperative living.

-The Big Book of Weirdos reached #37. One has to think that if it were a little weirder, or maybe a little bigger, it could’ve topped Snow Falling on Cedars.

-Politically Correct Holiday Stories was #51, giving us a pretty specific indication of what we found funny in 1995. Compare author James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (still in print!) with Go the F*ck to Sleep, the #8 bestselling book on Amazon in 2011. They’re like Mr. Glass and Bruce Willis.

-The Patrick O’Brian Calendar for 1996 made it to #92, making it the most profitable halfhearted gift of 1995!

3 thoughts on “What Books Were We Reading in 1995?

  1. Kevin A. Lewis

    Sorry to intrude about another blogger, but what’s up with the sudden disappearance of Rose Fox? She posted this slightly odd piece about tension in the pub industry and then… blank space the next day. PW’s blogspace is sparse enough without losing another, and she was one of the better ones; should we send out a search party?

  2. Kate Heyhoe

    In 1994, my husband and I cofounded the first food/cooking website, which is now GlobalGourmet.com. I sold the first food web ad to a Madison Ave agency, who bought a Kikkoman banner ad (most agencies had never heard of the WWW); it made headlines in AdAge. In 1995, Steve Case was in charge of AOL; we became part of AOL’s prestigious Greenhouse Program of “infopreneurs” and that led to book deals. Compuserve was a big player (RIP), and 1995 was a cultural tipping point: DVD’s arrived, Nokia intro’d a hybrid PDA-smartphone device; just 5 years earlier the human genome project began, and in 1997, Red Bull entered the US market. @KateHeyhoe

  3. Kevin A. Lewis

    Wow, back when MTV actually played music, America still had talent and an economy?! When Borders was too big to fail and I was a deckhand on the forward bow? Excuse me, I’ve gotta go lie down now…………..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>