26 May 2011

The most well-read cities in the United States

From Berkeleyside: Berkeley is the third most well-read city in the US, according to amazon.com data.

This is among cities with population 100,000 or greater. Number 1 is Cambridge, Massachusetts (105K people); number 2 is Alexandria, Virginia (140K); number 3 is Berkeley, California (112K); number 4 is Ann Arbor, Michigan (114K); number 5 is Boulder, Colorado (100K). There are 275 cities of population greater than 100,000 in the US; Alexandria, the most populous of these five, is ranked 177.

My first thought upon seeing this is that these are all small cities, and of course you expect to see more extreme results in small cities than in large cities. Small cities are perhaps more likely to be homogenous. (This seems especially likely to be true for small cities that are part of larger metropolitan areas.) Actually, my quick analysis of the top five doesn't hold up for the top twenty; the average rank of the top twenty cities listed at amazon is 127.1, which is LOWER (although not significantly different) from the 138.5 you'd expect if being on this top-twenty list was independent of size. But it's certainly possible that, say, some 100,000-person section of the city of San Francisco actually has higher amazon.com sales than Berkeley. (There are a surprisingly large number of bookstores in the Mission.)

Also, people in college towns tend to read a lot -- that's no surprise (although one does hear that students don't read any more a lot these days). Four of the top five (all but Alexandria) are college towns; also in the top 20 are Gainesville (Florida), Knoxville (Tennessee), and Columbia (South Carolina). And in case you're wondering, Alexandria is not named after the city in Egypt with the Great Library.


Unknown said...

Cambridge is home to Harvard and MIT! Well read? I think so. And Tufts students live nearby! Woot! -The Awkward Engineer (who lives near Cambridge)

delagar said...

It's probably the faculty in the college town, and those who come with the faculty (faculty spouses, bookstores, et cetera) that are doing the reading in the college towns.

OTOH, as a professor in a tiny college, I have to say many of my students do in fact read.

David said...

Cambridge is a arbitrary concept -- it's just a big slice of metro Boston, roughly the equivalent of Brooklyn. It is truly meaningless to say anything definitive about the population of Cambridge, other than the fact that two of our most intensely intellectual communities reside within its boundaries. But also some of the Boston area's poorest and most poorly educated people live in Cambridge. It's truly a Granfalloon.

I suspect the same is true of the other towns in this utterly meaningless survey.