Thursday, 12 November 2015

The most influential academic book in history as seen by Google's nGram

When Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was voted the most influential academic book ever as part of the inaugural Academic Book Week I wondered what the result might look like through the lens of book analytic data provided by Google.

The top five in the #20ABCWorld poll were:
  1. On the Origins of Species - Charles Darwin
  2. The Communist Manifesto - Marx & Engels
  3. The Complete Works - William Shakespeare
  4. The Republic - Plato
  5. Critique of Pure Reason - Immanuel Kant
You can find out more about Academic Book Week and the project called The Academic Book of the Future that I am co-researcher on here (

Taking these top 5, I mapped the authors across the 20th Century to see who comes out as most mentioned in the Google Books Ngram Viewer*?
You see this in more detail with the nGram functionality here

As you can see Darwin stays fairly stubbornly towards the bottom of the chart. Noting the chart is a measure of the frequency of a word or phrase then this may indicate the way that Darwin is referred to. Maybe it is the idea of evolution that is more used than his name? So let's compare by adding in evolution and as a baseline to check against communism (Marx). Aha!

You see this in more detail with the nGram functionality here

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this bit of fun. An interesting look into those top 5 books and their authors viewed through the lens of the nGram.

One last little bit of fun is I did an nGram for academic book vs book of the future vs academic monograph. We appear to be living in the future of the book right now and I wonder what academics were called before the 1940's?

Source here.

*nGram is an online viewer that charts frequencies of any word or short phrase providing a yearly count from the varied book sources printed in that time period. It's an interesting way to indicate how much was written about a subject, theme or topic over time and how this changed. Whilst not forensically accurate it is good for trends and it's prudent use can be insightful:

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