America’s Most Well-Read Cities

Amazon has compiled its list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America.

After compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since Jan. 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

  1. Cambridge, Massachusetts
  2. Alexandria, Virginia
  3. Berkeley, California
  4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  5. Boulder, Colorado
  6. Miami, Florida
  7. Salt Lake City, Utah
  8. Gainesville, Florida
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Arlington, Virginia
  11. Knoxville, Tennessee
  12. Orlando, Florida
  13. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  14. Washington, DC
  15. Bellevue, Washington
  16. Columbia, South Carolina
  17. St. Louis, Missouri
  18. Cincinnati, Ohio
  19. Portland, Oregon
  20. Atlanta, Georgia

I live in the #2 city and work in the #14 city.

For the most part, the list doesn’t surprise me. It’s heavy on college towns, particularly those with prestige research universities. And three cities are in the National Capitol Region, which is heavy on universities, think tanks, and policy wonks. But what explains Salt Lake City, Orlando, and Bellevue? For that matter, while they all have major research universities, Gainesville, Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Columbia, Cincinnati, and Atlanta aren’t exactly Cambridge and Berkeley.

Well, the breakdowns give some clues:

  • Not only do they like to read, but they like to know the facts: Cambridge, Mass.–home to the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology–also topped the list of cities that ordered the most nonfiction books.
  • Boulder, Colo., lives up to its reputation as a healthy city by topping the list of cities that order the most books in the Cooking, Food & Wine category.
  • Alexandria, Va., residents must be reading a lot of bedtime stories – they topped the list of the city that orders the most children’s books.
  • Summer reading weather all year long? Florida was the state with the most cities in the Top 20, with Miami, Gainesville and Orlando making the list.

I’m sure the Joyner household put Alexandria over the top; we buy a crapload of children’s books using Amazon Prime.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tim says:

    Huntsville, AL will never make that list–everything we read is online 🙁

  2. Pug says:

    Well you had to figure Texas wouldn’t make that list.

    Not even Austin.

  3. John Peabody says:

    Guys, guys… It’s not a list of well-read cities, it’s a table of Amazon sales data… Not the same thing. While it is an indicator, don’t make assumptions about the city that is / is not on the list.

  4. Tano says:

    Ann Arbor #4
    Columbus Ohio not in the top 20, not even #1 in Ohio.

  5. TG Chicago says:

    Agreed with John Peabody. Amazon would love for you to think that the only way to buy a book is through them (and, in fact, that the only way to read a book is to buy it), but that is not the case. This is just an Amazon ad that OTB decided to put up for free.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @John Peabody and @TG Chicago: The post is quite clear as to how the data was compiled. Still, Amazon sales records are likely a decent proxy for overall sales, especially for big cities, which tend to have high rates of broadband penetration. Maybe some places are more likely to get books from libraries but I doubt it’s that significant.

  7. Tano says:

    Yes, James is correct with this, I do believe, If John and TG want to make the case that these data are meaningless, they would need to demonstrate that Amazon sales are a non-random sampling of overall sales – to a significant extent.

    Are you going to argue that taking into account brick and mortar book sales would knock places like Cambridge and Berkeley further down the list? I imagine they have far more bookstores per capita than most cities….

  8. anjin-san says:

    Go Cal Bears!

  9. RightKlik says:

    Amazon’s best customers = smart people

    Brilliant marketing spin.

    Go Local Sports Team and/or College!

  10. Barb Hartwell says:

    I live in the Pacific N.W. and I believe we made the list because of all the rain we get. It`s nice to curl up with a book on a dreary day,especially a book that takes you to better places.

  11. mary says:

    You can’t call this a measure of reading, only a sales measure. People still do use libraries, you know.

  12. TG Chicago says:

    If John and TG want to make the case that these data are meaningless

    I didn’t say meaningless. The point is that you can read books without buying them and you can buy books without buying them from Amazon.

    The main takeaway is that this is an ad for Amazon. Not only does it get their name out there, but it pushes the idea that if you’re not getting a book from Amazon, you’re not getting a book.