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!