Posted by: biblioglobal | June 26, 2014

Reading the world proportionately

China gets an unfair deal in my book-from-every-country project. In reading a book from every country, China gets just over 0.5% representation, whereas its population represents 19% of the world’s population.

India is only slightly less under-represented with 17.4% of the world’s population. I don’t feel quite as bad about India though because I read a reasonable number of India-related books in addition to the one I read for this project.

So I was pleased to discover a few months ago a list by another blogger reading a book from every country showing what it would look like to read the world in proportion to population ( For a list of 100 books, that works out to:

19 books from China;
17 from India;
4 from the US;
3 from Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan;
2 from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Japan and Mexico, and
1 each from the Philippines, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Turkey, DRC, Thailand, France, UK, Italy, Burma, South Africa, South Korea, Colombia, Spain, Ukraine, Tanzania, Kenya, Argentina, Algeria, Poland, Sudan, Uganda, Canada, Iraq, Morocco, Peru, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nepal, Afghanistan, Yemen, North Korea, Ghana, Mozambique, Australia and Taiwan.

The list also attempts to be proportional in terms of gender representation and ethnicities within countries. I think it’s a great alternative approach to reading the world.

Of course, it does mean that entire regions of the world- Oceania, the Caribbean, the Balkans get left out. Maybe one could combine approaches. How many books would you have to read, to read the world proportionally and still include one book for tiny Nauru?

720,965. Of which 136,983 should be about China and 1 about Nauru. If you’re including Vatican City amongst your countries, the situation is 10 times worse!

If you’re willing compromise and find a single travelogue covering Nauru, Tuvalu and Palau, that makes San Marino the smallest country and brings the total number of books needed down to only 219,689.

I think I’ll stick to my original plan of one book per country! But I may try to fit a few more Chinese books into my reading diet.

(My calculations are based on this Wikipedia page:

Update: Following up on the suggestion below to use logarithms, I’ve written a new post calculating how to read the world in 629 books.



  1. I think I’d do it in the same manner, one book per country as a must, additional titles according to liking.

    • What? Read according to liking rather than a set of rules? What an idea! 🙂

      Yes that makes sense.

      • But then, how would we know in advance, which are the good one’s and wich the bad?

        Take Germany with an approximate publishing of nearly 8,000 (sic!) titles per month (sic!), how to choose?

        And was there a single titel worthwhile reading after Rilke, Mann, or Hesse, anyway? I doubt very much.

      • I’d say there is far more worth reading than the classics! I thought The Mussel Feast by Brigit Venderbeke, which I just read for my Germany book, was excellent!

      • If whatever this lady brought down to paper, could be named literature, one could at least state that there is no accounting for tastes … 🙂

        But that’s exactly what I meant before. That something like that book has been awarded the stamp of being literature, shows two things; first the complete degeneration of whatever is called the German literary scene, and second, how far the German characteristic trait of once being called the country of poets and thinkers has been submerged (monstly thanks to the US lead re-education program and their offsprings like the Frankfurt School or genderism).

        The best what could be said about Vanderbeke’s literary publications is that she is a politically protected author with a respective assignment.

      • Well, in that case, there is no accounting for my taste, because I disagree!

      • No problem at all. 🙂

  2. Reading the world proportionately looks like a great idea. I might try that too for next year. But with my own modification, giving more percentages to the literatures of the more marginalized peoples of the world. 🙂

    • Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. How would would you calculate marginalization? I suppose you could divide population by GDP or something like that.

      • I don’t think GDP paints an accurate picture of the material socio-economic conditions of the people on the ground. But perhaps other indicators like the Human Development Index, Gross National Happiness, or some other alternative index which takes into consideration income levels, educational attainment levels, life expectancy and the likes, would do.

      • Yes, I agree those would be better metrics!

  3. You are a scientist. I am sure you could come up with something based on a log scale. Do you prefer Log10 or natural log?

    • Oh, good point! I tend more towards log10. I think that could work quite well.

  4. Interesting take on reading the world by population I often think strange that some I the largest countries in the world have so little translated into English

    • Yes, China and India are hugely under-represented in translation! I was shocked, looking at Three Percent’s data how few books are translated from Hindi/Urdu. In many years none were translated!

  5. Wow that’s a very interesting way to look at it. I’d do very bad, I haven’t read many books from China or India…

    • There’s a way to fix that! 🙂

  6. Very interesting post! I like how you have been using your science/math background the past few posts to analyze your reading habits. I would do that, but I’m too lazy. 🙂 I don’t consider myself a balanced reader in “reading books from around the world” department, but in looking back over my reading lists of the past few years it’s almost appalling how lop-sided my lists are. It’s a good thing for me to keep in mind going forward!

    • Thanks! Then you’ll really like my follow-up post calculating proportional books based on a log scale!

      I think it is pretty hard not to have lopsided reading without making a conscious effort to do otherwise. I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with reading more books from one’s own country, but it’s fun to branch out!

  7. Cool idea! I like it!!

  8. That’s a very interesting approach to reading the world. I also appreciate the effort to reflect gender and ethnic representation within countries. I feel sorry for the smaller countries, but 720,965 is out the question! Maybe someone who is trying the proportional approach could do a lottery for the countries that are left out, choosing to read a few between the books from the larger countries.

    • Yes, I really liked the attempt to make that list culturally representative! That’s not something I have tried to do at all. In part because, similarly to wanting the smaller countries to be represented, it’s often very interesting to read about members of smaller ethnic/cultural groups, such as the Roma woman I read about for Slovakia.

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