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Top Ten

June 21, 2004

I’m fairly certain that David Letterman did not invent the Top Ten List, but I hold him personally responsible for its annoying popularity.

My prejudice did not stop me, however, from buying a new edition for the library of “The Top Ten of Everything” from DK Publishing. It’s not “everything,” of course, since there’s only 700 or so lists. Thus, it’s smaller than the World Almanac. Many of the lists came from the same public sources used for the almanac.

But this is really a coffee-table kind of almanac. It’s done in DK’s usual style, which is visually stunning yet still eminently readable. If you want the lists in Letterman’s countdown style, you’ll have to do it yourself and read up the list instead of down.

Thus, you might read “Countries with the highest life expectancy”: Tied for tenth at 79.4 years, are Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Italy … and the number one country is … Andorra, at 83.5.

The U.S. isn’t on that list. But many lists have a world or U.S. figure to put the information in context. The U.S. is 77.5.

I looked Andorra up in the CIA World Factbook, but the only fact I could see that might account for longevity was “no income taxes.”

The lists invite questions. For per capita health care spending, you might guess that the U.S. is number one. But what about hospital beds? The U.S. has 36 beds per 10,000 people. Japan has 164. Why? Japan has the third highest life expectancy in the world. Is it because they have more hospital beds, or is the nation hypochondriacal?

The Top Ten of Everything is an entertainment that rewards browsing with interesting lists and annotations. When you get to one of the color-coded sections entitled “The Commercial World,” you’ll find a chapter on the World Wide Web. One of the lists is “The most searched terms of all time on Lycos.”

Of course, “of all time” is really only a decade long, but the list is … how to say it … interesting. Number Ten is “Harry Potter.” Number Nine is “The Bible.” I can accept these.

Number Eight is “Final Fantasy,” an interactive game. Then, in a seven-way tie for Number One, are Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Dragonball, Las Vegas, Tattoos, Jennifer Lopez, and WWF.

I really don’t think there’s a surge of interest in the World Wildlife Fund (wwf.org). Would that there were. It’s for WWF wrestling (wwf.com).

The most popular category of DVD rentals? Comedy; by far. Largest global retailer? You guessed it; and by far. Most dangerous occupation the U.S.? Librarian. No, just kidding. It’s truck driving.

The country with the highest newspaper circulation? China, by far. But then Japan is second, outstripping the U.S. I’m not sure if I was surprised, quite, to read that the top three English-language newspapers, by circulation, were all in Britain.

The “Lord of the Rings” is the third bestselling book of all time, after the Bible and the Quotations of Mao Tse-tung. Phew. At least it wasn’t an Ayn Rand book.

Bestselling book of poetry in the U.S.? It seems ironic to me in these times: The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.

This is a fun book. Don’t buy coffee table books; borrow them from the library. Then the same ones won’t sit there year after year, boring your friends to tears.

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