We have a question What was the third best-selling book in the antebellum US? that was closed as out of scope then reopened as in scope.

So more generally, are these types of question in or out of scope?

3 Answers 3


As the asker of that question, I'll explain myself. I was trying to ask the most SE-appropriate question about the influence of literary works in a historical era.

  1. I didn't want to ask a list question: "What are some other influential literary works from the antebellum US?"

  2. I didn't want to ask a question that invited too much speculation: "What was the most influential book in the antebellum US after Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Bible?" or "How influential of a work was John Pendleton Kennedy's Quodlibet?"

  3. I know there is active meta-debate about this, but I was trying to avoid asking for primary sources: "Does anyone know a good data source for sales statistics of books before 1860?"

I did want to phrase my question in a way that presented a clear metric for defining how right or wrong an answer was. There's no way to know how many people read a given book, so sales rankings seemed to me the most objective way to go about this. If two people answered with sales statistics for different books, it is then easy to choose a better answer.

That's my justification for asking about book sales. The justification for other mercantile statistics would be different, but data series like these are the stuff of a lot of good academic history.


They should be in-scope:

  • Questions about cultural aspects of history in general are on topic

  • Questions that are of the type you listed have well defined answers (either a ranking from a source, or the fact that for a given product at a given time, nobody ever had rankings yet).


One problem with such a question is that "it will likely not benefit others on this site."

So you have to at least add a question as to why you feel the ranking is important.

One question might be, "I know that the number-one selling book at such a time and place was the Bible. What was number 2, and what was the highest ranking non-religious tract at the time?

Or, "I just read that Robert E. Lee was not the highest ranking Confederate officer in the Civil War. Who was, why was he above Lee, and why have we never heard of him?"

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