Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
New York Public Library's 10 most checked-out books of all time
The most popular books of the past 125 years, and where to get them.
- New York Public library is celebrating its 125th birthday in 2020. With over 90 locations across New York City's boroughs, it is the nation's largest public library system.
- Based on circulation data, popularity, trends, and other criteria dating back to 1895, these books are considered the library's most checked-out titles of all time.
- "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats was checked out 485,583 times and takes the top spot, but one librarian's hatred of another book may have robbed it of the crown.
This year marks the 125th birthday of the New York Public Library. Millions of books have been borrowed from the library's numerous branches around the city since 1895, but some timeless classics have been thumbed through and enjoyed more than others. For its quasquicentennial celebration, the library has shared a list of the ten books that card holders just couldn't get enough of.
"The books on this list have transcended generations and, much like the Library itself, are as relevant today as they were when they first arrived," said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx in a statement. "This list tells us something about New Yorkers over the last 125 years — what moves them, what excites them, what stands the test of time."
Determining which books were the most popular wasn't as simple as checking a computer file. A team of experts reviewed checkout and circulation data, reading trends, the length of the books, the length of time they have been in print and in the catalog, school lists, and the awards and special recognitions that the books have received.
You should find as many ways as you can to support your local library. Add these books to your borrow list now, or if you can't stand the wait, buy a copy of your own.
Published in 1962, this Caldecott Award-winning children's book tells the story of a Black boy named Peter exploring his city after the first snowfall of the season. Keats' book has since been translated into 10 different languages, has appeared on postage stamps, and has been adapted into an animated Christmas special. It tops the list with 485,583 checkouts.
Limited edition NYPL library cards featuring Keats' cover illustration are now available for eligible residents.
In the number two spot with 469,650 checkouts is Dr. Seuss's iconic book about a tall feline who talks and visits two children on a rainy day while their mother is away. Originally published in 1957, the book has spawned animated and live-action film adaptations, games, theme park rides, and lots of merchandise and licensed apparel. You can now read about Thing One and Thing Two in 17 languages.
Published in 1949, this novel (set in the imagined 1984 of the future) has become synonymous with the idea of a dystopian society. Checked out 441,770 times from New York Public Library, Orwell's book is a staple in classrooms and widely considered one of the most influential books of all time.
This picture book from 1963 was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. After misbehaving and being sent to bed without dinner, Max is transported to a jungle with other "wild things." He becomes their king but eventually misses his family and returns home. There are only 388 words in the book, but the great story and even greater artwork inspired parents and young readers to check the book out 436,016 times in New York.
Another staple on reading lists around the country, this Pulitzer Prize winning book by Harper Lee has been seen as both a masterpiece and as a text worth banning. Dealing with themes of racial injustice and classism, the book is set in a small town in Alabama where a Black man has been falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. NYPL patrons have read the story of Scout, Atticus, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley 422,912 times since it was published in 1960.
An artistic spider and an exceptional pig navigate the harsh realities of farm life and of mortality in this 1952 novel by E.B. White. If you haven't read the book, chances are you've seen the animated film that was released 21 years later in 1973. Around 337,948 readers have picked this one up so far, so maybe it's time for you to join them in the adventure.
Burning books is bad, but reading a classic novel about burning books is good. This highly awarded title was first published in 1953 and has stood the test of time, as more young readers discover it in school and older readers revisit its McCarthy era themes of censorship and freedom of thought. "Fahrenheit 451" has been checked out 316,404 times, according to NYPL.
One of the best-selling self-help titles of all time, this book by Dale Carnegie was published way back in 1936. Friend seekers are apparently still finding wisdom in its pages, because it has been borrowed from the library system over 284,524 times. What advice does Carnegie give? You'll have to grab a copy to find out.
The first of seven books in the wildly successful series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (née Philosopher's Stone) is still J.K. Rowling's best-selling work, so the fact that it has been checked out 231,022 times is not surprising. Overall, the series has sold over 500 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 80 languages.
At only 22 pages long, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is the shortest book on the list but perhaps the most vibrant. Eric Carle's illustrations of a caterpillar and its delicious environment have crawled out of the library at least 189,550 times in New York and millions more at other libraries and bookstores around the world. If you don't already own it, grab a copy now.
There was one really interested asterisk to the NYPL list that is worth sharing. It turns out, the personal tastes of one librarian kept the 1947 book "Goodnight Moon" from appearing on library shelves for nearly three decades, which undoubtedly skewed its circulation numbers. The library explains:
By all measures, this book should be a top checkout (in fact, it might be the top checkout) if not for an odd piece of history: extremely influential New York Public Library children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated "Goodnight Moon" when it first came out. As a result, the Library didn't carry it until 1972.
When you buy something through a link in this article Big Think earns a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.
- How reading rewires your brain for more intelligence and empathy ... ›
- The value of owning more books than you can read - Big Think ›
- 10 must-read classic books for beginners ›
- These are the best books for every age - Big Think ›
- Books everyone should read and why - Big Think ›
- The best science and tech books of 2020 - Big Think ›
- 13 films everyone should watch and why—as voted by you - Big Think ›
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
After former U.S. President William Henry Harrison delivered his inaugural speech on March 4, 1841, he posed for a daguerreotype, the first widely available photographic technology. It became the first photo taken of a sitting American president.
As for the eight presidents before Harrison, history can see them only through artistic renderings. (The exception is a handful of surviving daguerreotypes of John Quincy Adams, taken after he left office. In his diary, Adams described them as "hideous" and "too true to the original.")
But a recent project offers a glimpse of what early presidents might've looked like if photographed through modern cameras. Using FaceApp and Airbrush, Magdalene Visaggio, author of books such as "Eternity Girl" and "Kim & Kim," generated a collection of convincing portraits of the nation's first presidents, from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant.
Modern Presidents George Washington https://t.co/CURJQB0kap— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611952243.0
What might be surprising is that Visaggio was able to generate the images without a background in graphic design, using freely available tools. She wrote on Twitter:
"A lot of people think I'm a digital artist or whatever, so let me clarify how I work. Everything you see here is done in Faceapp+Airbrush on my phone. On the outside, each takes between 15-30 mins. Washington was a pretty simple one-and-done replacement."
Ulysses S Grant https://t.co/L1IGXLI3Vl— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611959480.0
"Other than that? I am not a visual artist in any sense, just a hobbyist using AI tools see what she can make. I'm actually a professional comics writer."
Did another pass at Lincoln. https://t.co/PdT4QVpMbn— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611973947.0
Of course, Visaggio isn't the first person to create deepfakes (or "cheap fakes") of politicians.
In 2017, many people got their first glimpse of the technology through a video depicting former President Barack Obama warning: "We're entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time." The video quickly reveals itself to be fake, with comedian Jordan Peele speaking for the computer-generated Obama.
While deepfakes haven't yet caused significant chaos in the U.S., incidents in other nations may offer clues of what's to come.
The future of deepfakes
In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.
But the video is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real.
The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a 2020 report from The Brookings Institution. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes.
As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:
"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."
The author of 'How We Read' Now explains.
During the pandemic, many college professors abandoned assignments from printed textbooks and turned instead to digital texts or multimedia coursework.
As a professor of linguistics, I have been studying how electronic communication compares to traditional print when it comes to learning. Is comprehension the same whether a person reads a text onscreen or on paper? And are listening and viewing content as effective as reading the written word when covering the same material?
The answers to both questions are often “no," as I discuss in my book “How We Read Now," released in March 2021. The reasons relate to a variety of factors, including diminished concentration, an entertainment mindset and a tendency to multitask while consuming digital content.
Print versus digital reading
The benefits of print particularly shine through when experimenters move from posing simple tasks – like identifying the main idea in a reading passage – to ones that require mental abstraction – such as drawing inferences from a text. Print reading also improves the likelihood of recalling details – like “What was the color of the actor's hair?" – and remembering where in a story events occurred – “Did the accident happen before or after the political coup?"
Studies show that both grade school students and college students assume they'll get higher scores on a comprehension test if they have done the reading digitally. And yet, they actually score higher when they have read the material in print before being tested.
Educators need to be aware that the method used for standardized testing can affect results. Studies of Norwegian tenth graders and U.S. third through eighth graders report higher scores when standardized tests were administered using paper. In the U.S. study, the negative effects of digital testing were strongest among students with low reading achievement scores, English language learners and special education students.
My own research and that of colleagues approached the question differently. Rather than having students read and take a test, we asked how they perceived their overall learning when they used print or digital reading materials. Both high school and college students overwhelmingly judged reading on paper as better for concentration, learning and remembering than reading digitally.
The discrepancies between print and digital results are partly related to paper's physical properties. With paper, there is a literal laying on of hands, along with the visual geography of distinct pages. People often link their memory of what they've read to how far into the book it was or where it was on the page.
But equally important is mental perspective, and what reading researchers call a “shallowing hypothesis." According to this theory, people approach digital texts with a mindset suited to casual social media, and devote less mental effort than when they are reading print.
Podcasts and online video
Given increased use of flipped classrooms – where students listen to or view lecture content before coming to class – along with more publicly available podcasts and online video content, many school assignments that previously entailed reading have been replaced with listening or viewing. These substitutions have accelerated during the pandemic and move to virtual learning.
Surveying U.S. and Norwegian university faculty in 2019, University of Stavanger Professor Anne Mangen and I found that 32% of U.S. faculty were now replacing texts with video materials, and 15% reported doing so with audio. The numbers were somewhat lower in Norway. But in both countries, 40% of respondents who had changed their course requirements over the past five to 10 years reported assigning less reading today.
A primary reason for the shift to audio and video is students refusing to do assigned reading. While the problem is hardly new, a 2015 study of more than 18,000 college seniors found only 21% usually completed all their assigned course reading.
Maximizing mental focus
Researchers found similar results with university students reading an article versus listening to a podcast of the text. A related study confirms that students do more mind-wandering when listening to audio than when reading.
Results with younger students are similar, but with a twist. A study in Cyprus concluded that the relationship between listening and reading skills flips as children become more fluent readers. While second graders had better comprehension with listening, eighth graders showed better comprehension when reading.
Research on learning from video versus text echoes what we see with audio. For example, researchers in Spain found that fourth through sixth graders who read texts showed far more mental integration of the material than those watching videos. The authors suspect that students “read" the videos more superficially because they associate video with entertainment, not learning.
The collective research shows that digital media have common features and user practices that can constrain learning. These include diminished concentration, an entertainment mindset, a propensity to multitask, lack of a fixed physical reference point, reduced use of annotation and less frequent reviewing of what has been read, heard or viewed.
Digital texts, audio and video all have educational roles, especially when providing resources not available in print. However, for maximizing learning where mental focus and reflection are called for, educators – and parents – shouldn't assume all media are the same, even when they contain identical words.
Humans may have evolved to be tribalistic. Is that a bad thing?
- From politics to every day life, humans have a tendency to form social groups that are defined in part by how they differ from other groups.
- Neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, author Dan Shapiro, and others explore the ways that tribalism functions in society, and discuss how—as social creatures—humans have evolved for bias.
- But bias is not inherently bad. The key to seeing things differently, according to Beau Lotto, is to "embody the fact" that everything is grounded in assumptions, to identify those assumptions, and then to question them.
Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.