Since the AP review came out, and was printed in 20-odd papers, the sales rank has climbed back into the four digits, and has spent the last few days hovering around 2,000. This is pretty respectable, and Amazon proudly touts it as being “#1 in Books > Science > Physics > Quantum Theory,” which sounds nice.
Of course, what does that really mean?
If you click through to the “Quantum Theory” subcategory, you’ll see that it’s a weird hodgepodge. How to Teach Physics to Your Dog is, indeed, #1 in the category, but the next two books on the list look like New Agey quantum twaddle. The #4 spot is held by David Griffiths’s textbook, which is quite good, but not really aimed at the same market. The next serious popular science book on the list is Feynman’s QED, which is really good, and a book I’m proud to have on the list. Below mine.
(Woo! I’m bigger than Feynman!)
(As of 11pm Thursday night, when I’m typing this, I’ve actually got two of the top twenty books in the Quantum Theory subcategory– the Kindle edition is at #17. I had no idea they were ranked separately– something new to obsess about…)
Of course, it’s easy to be a big fish in an overly specific pond, especially when that pond alternates textbooks with godawful woo, plus a few really good books here and there. What about a broader category?
Well, as of 11pm Thursday night, I’m at #20 in the Physics category. Again, though, it’s interesting to see how many of the books on the list are textbooks. The #1 best-seller in Physics, according to Amazon, is the newest edition of Halliday, Resnick, and Walker at #456 overall. That hardly seems fair, given that probably half of the wannabe engineers in America are required to buy it for class.
If you sift out the textbooks from the list, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog is the fourth-place popular science book on that list, behind Sean Carroll’s new book on time, Richard Muller’s Physics for Future Presidents (also really good), and, oddly, a book called This Is Your Brain On Music, which sounds like a cognitive science thing, but apparently involves enough acoustics for Amazon to put it in Physics. Again, worthy company.
What about the next level up? Well, neither Sean nor I make it into the top 100 Science books (Sean narrowly misses– the last book on the list as of 11pm is a nursing handbook at #600, while he’s at #618), so that’s pretty much where any scaling needs to end.
So, if you’re wondering what those sales rank numbers I keep mentioning really mean, that should put it in a little more perspective. 2,000-ish gets you in the top 20 Physics books, 600-ish in the Top 100 Science books. These are, obviously, highly imperfect given the number of textbooks on the lists (and the top Science book right now is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, at #3. I can’t begin to explain that…), but it gives a little basis for assessing how the book is doing so far, which is, basically, “pretty good for a pop-physics book.”
And there’s your look into my psyche for today…