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2019 Best sellers: Surprises in the Acton Book Shop

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Book sales data is hard to come by. Publishers keep their sales numbers close to their chest. The information is valuable. It shapes which authors, designers and editors publishers cultivate as well as which topics, genres and formats they invest in. It reveals the effectiveness of marketing and advertising as well as the weight of a review. In this respect, even the worst sellers provide high quality information.

Best seller lists, such as The New York Times, are the products of propitiatory surveys weighed according to statistical sampling methods that are carefully guarded trade secrets. Why the opacity? To generate unique information to sell to consumers, to prevent publishers and authors from gaming the system and to prevent criticism of what is, by necessity, an imperfect system.

The Acton Institute Book Shop’s latest sale gives you a glimpse into our best sellers of 2019. This list is derived from our own point of sale data and includes titles we publish and co-publish as well as titles from other publishers. It contains quite a few unexpected but pleasant surprises:

  1. Nearly a quarter of the list is made up of media products. While I was not surprised to see more recent productions such as “Poverty Inc.,” “For the Life of the World,” and “PovertyCure” listed, the staying power of earlier productions such as “The Call of the Entrepreneur” and “The Birth of Freedom” continues to be a pleasant surprise.
  2. A third of the list is made up of non-Acton published titles. Among these are books published by Acton Institute authors like Samuel Gregg’s “Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization” and Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s “Defending the Free Market.” Seven of the volumes in the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology, which Acton co-publishes with Lexham Press, also made the list.
  3. Early moderns sell! The sixteenth-century Reformed theologian Sebastian Castellio’s plea for religious freedom, “Advice to a Desolate France,” and the pragmatic case for religious tolerance made by Jesuit controversialist Martinus Becanus, “On the Duty to Keep Faith with Heretics,” both continued to captivate the public in 2019!

Two notable but unsurprising phenomena are also worth pointing out:

  1. Perennial sellers sell. Classic titles like Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s “A Moral Basis for Liberty,” Father James Schall’s “On Christians and Prosperity,” Dylan Pahman’s “Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society” and Lester DeKoster’s “Work” continue to find an audience years after their first publication.
  2. Timely new classics find their audience quickly. John Pinheiro’s “The American Experiment in Ordered Liberty” makes a concise and comprehensive case for the compatibility of the American Founding and Catholic social teaching at a time of rising Catholic anti-liberalism. Only released in August of this year, it became a ‘2019 Best Seller’ in a mere four months. My interview with John Pinheiro about this book on the Acton Line podcast was one of my favorites of the year.

Have you ordered anything from the Acton Book Shop, best seller or otherwise? Help out other readers by leaving a review of your favorite products!

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Dan Hugger Dan Hugger is Librarian and Research Associate at the Acton Institute.