World Records in Books and Publishing

alex atkins bookshelf booksGuinness World Records, the best-selling authoritative guide to the world records of extremes of the natural world and human feats, was hatched from a disagreement at a pub. Sir Hugh Beaver (18090-1967), managing director of the Guinness Brewery, had attended a hunting trip in County Wexford, located in the southeast region of Ireland, on November 1951. Beaver missed a shot at a golden plover which led to a spirited debate at the pub that evening: what was the fastest game bird in Europe — the golden plover or the red grouse? Because the Internet and Siri had not been invented, they had to go old school and consult reference books; however, with great frustration, they realized that a book with this specific type of information simply did not exist. Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention — Beaver realized that a book that contained information about the superlatives (the fastest, the largest, the tallest, etc.) could be quite useful. Subsequently, Beaver was introduced to twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter who ran the London-based Fact and Figure Agency that provided statistics and facts to newspapers. The Guinness Book of Records was published in August 1954. Originally, the 198-page book was given to pub patrons (at the time, there were more than 81,400 pubs in Britain and Ireland) as a way to promote the Guinness brand and serve as a really thick coaster; however, the book was so popular, it was republished as The Guinness Book of Records in October 1955 and sold more than 100,000 copies. To date (the 2023 edition is now in its 69th year of publication) the reference book has sold more than 100 million copies in 100 countries in over 35 languages. 

Incidentally it took the editors 35 years to answer the question that was the catalyst for the book of records. The 36th edition, published in 1989, noted: “Britain’s fastest game bird is the Red Grouse (Lagopus l. scoticus) which, in still air, has recorded burst speeds up to 92.8-100.8 km/h 58-63 mph over very short distances. Air speeds up to 112 km/h 70 mph have been claimed for the Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) when flushed, but it is extremely doubtful whether this rapid-flying bird can exceed 80-88 km/h 50-55 mph – even in an emergency.”

The Guinness World Records is updated each year and published in October to capture holiday sales. Each edition contains new world records (and crtieria for inclusion which may change from year to year) and a selection of records from the Guinness World Records database that contains over 53,00 verified records. For the recently published 2023 edition, the editors presented the following world records in the realm of publishing and books. Here are some highlights:

Best-selling book
The Holy Bible: 5 to 7 billion copies (according to the British and Foreign Bible Society, 2021). According to Wordsrated, a non-commercial international research data group, there are about 6 million copies of the Bible. Each year, there are more than 100 million Bibles printed worldwide. In the U.S. alone, 20 million Bibles are sold each year, generating annual sales revenue of more about $430 million. Internationally, there are more than 80,000 different versions of the Bible sold,

First Library
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh (now northern Iraq, near Mosul) was established between 668 and 631 BC. The library was named after the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, Ashurbanipal, who was a great martial commander, but also an intellectual and passionate collector of texts. Not surprisingly, he stocked his library by looting the cities that his armies conquered. The library contained 30,000 clay tablets and fragments inscribed with cuneiform writing from the 7th century BC. One of its most famous texts was the Epic of Gilgamesh, a masterpiece of ancient Babylonian poetry. One of the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh is on display at the British Museum, in London, England.

Oldest Continuously Operating Library
The library of St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai, Egypt, established between 527 and 565 AD.

Largest Library
The U.S. Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C., contains more than 173 million items, including 41 million books and print materials. The collection is spread across more than 838 miles of shelves. The second largest library is the British Library, located in Lodon, England, with more than 170 million items.

Most Successful Book Thief
American Stephen Carrie Blumberg (born 1948), known as the Book Bandit, stole more than 23,600 rare books worth more than $5.3 million (about $11 million in today’s dollars) from 268 different libraries from U.S. and Canada between 1970 and 1990. Unlike most thieves who steal to sell for a profit, Blumberg stole books to build his own reference library. After he was finally apprehended (thanks to a tip from a former accomplice who wanted to collect a $56,000 bounty), Blumberg was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 71 months in prison and a $200,000 fine.

Oldest Book Printed Using Movable Metal Type
The Buljo jikji simche yojeol, simply known as Jikji, is a Korean collection of Zen Buddhist teachings. The book, consisting of two volumes, was printed during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1377 with movable metal type — 78 years before the Johannes Gutenberg printed the 42-Line Bible from 1452 to 1455. Today, only the last volume survives and is kept at the National Library of France, located in Paris France.

First Audiobook
Typhoon by Joseph Conrad, sold as a set of four LP records in 1935.

First ebook
The U.S. Declaration of Independence as a plain-text file uploaded to the ARPAnet by Michael Hart on July 4, 1971. It became the foundation of the Project Gutenberg public domain ebook service.

Most Expensive Printed Book Sold at Auction
The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, was the first book ever printed in British North America by the residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640 — 20 years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The book, coveted by bibliophiles, was purchased by David Rubenstein for $14.16 million. It is extremely rare — of the 1,700 of the books of hymns printed, only 11 copies survive today; however only five of those are complete.

Most Expensive Book Sold Privately
The Sherbone Missal, a beautifully illuminated medieval manuscript purchased for $24.88 million in 1998 by the British Library.

Largest Trade Publisher
Penguin Random House posted revenues of $3.78 billion for the 2019 fiscal year. It publishes more than 70,000 digital and 15,000 print titles each year.

Best-Selling Fiction Book
Verified sales data has not been available for books before the early 2000s. The books that have sold more than 100 million copies include: The Hobbitt (1937) by J R R Tolkien, The Little Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) by J. K. Rowling.
The best-selling fiction book with verified sales data is Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) by E L James with global sales of more than 16.9 million copies (as of November 2021).

Most Downloaded Digital Classic Book from Project Gutenberg
Frankesntein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley: 86,000 downloads per month

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: 57,000 downloads per month

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: 39,000 downloads per month

Largest Collection of Comic Books
Bob Bretall (Mission Viejo, CA) owns more than 101,822 unique comics.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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For further reading: Guinness World Records: 2023

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