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The Most Popular Books in History All Shared One Trait

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Throughout history, people have turned to works of literature for guidance, entertainment, and education. Modern businesses aim to tell stories that leave a long-lasting impact as well, and should look to examples of historical success to influence how they create their own content.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Global English Editing, and it looks at 20 of the most popular books in the world. All of the books listed, even those published decades or centuries ago, have made an enduring impact on readers to this day. They have achieved this by stirring discussion and sparking debate wherever they are read.

The Twenty Most Popular Books Throughout History

Controversy: The Evergreen Theme

One of the important traits shared by every book on this list is the controversy that has swirled around each of them. This can be seen across different time periods and genres.

People have questioned the identity and authorial authenticity of Homer and decried the upending of creationism proposed by Darwin. Even a children’s book like the modern bestselling series, Harry Potter, can be a magnet for discussion over what is morally right and wrong.

It is often the case the that most popular and enduring literary works will not only captivate, but also address controversial issues in such a way that people will be talking about them for generations.

Lessons From History

The recent bestselling streak of George Orwell’s 1984, first published in 1950, is an interesting illustration of this trend.

The dystopian novel was banned upon its translation and release in the former USSR due to its implicit critique of Stalinist political ideology. By contrast, in the 1970s and 1980s, several American counties challenged 1984 on the grounds that it might promote communist ideals. In the 21st century, Orwell’s best-known work has been revisited by a new generation of readers as the American political climate continues to create new uncertainties about governance, the distortion of facts, and social control.

Best Selling Books for The 2nd Week of February 2017.

For Business Content, Bold Will Hold

The most popular books ever written can teach modern businesses a great deal about what it takes to make content that is evergreen, meaningful, and primed to engage their readers. Creating discussion is key in the age of the reactive “hot take” style of article. Your ability to stand out in the cultural, historical, or political context for having a point of view that many people find worthy of debating will give your work the staying power it needs.

Considering that within any given minute there are 2.4 million Google searches taking place and over 700,000 people logging into Facebook, this is no easy task. But whether it’s through a new product or via customer engagement, creating meaningful discussion is key to making a business’ voice heard through all the noise.

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War

Interactive: Comparing Military Spend Around the World

Which countries have the highest military spend relative to their economy? This visual breaks down the amount spent in each country by GDP.

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A map showing countries' military spend as a percentage of their gross domestic product.

Comparing Military Spend Around the World

One of the easiest ways to identify a nation’s priorities is by tracking its expenditures, and military spend is no different.

Usually spending is measured, and ranked, in absolute amounts. For example, countries around the world collectively spent $2.1 trillion on their militaries in 2021, with the most coming from the U.S. ($800 billion), China ($293 billion), and India ($77 billion).

But these eye-popping figures are best understood in the context of each country’s economy. Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Varun Jain has visualized 158 countries’ military expenditures, both as a percentage of their total GDP as well as in average per-capita spend.

Countries’ Military Spend as a Percentage of their Economy

To begin, Jain identified three categories of military expenditure as a percent of GDP, using the five-year (2018‒2022) average for more consistent data:

Military Spend% of GDPCountries
HighAbove 5%7
Medium2‒5%44
LowBelow 2%107

Under this categorization, the stand outs are the countries spending an outsized amount of their economic output on military, rather than the highest total spenders in absolute terms.

At the top of the table is Ukraine, which has earmarked a staggering average of 9.46% of its total economic output on defense over the past five years. That’s well ahead of second-place Saudi Arabia, which is slightly above 8%.

In Ukraine’s case, its high ranking shows how quickly priorities can change. From 2018 to 2021, the country spent 3.2-3.8% of its GDP on its military, but the outbreak of war with Russia saw its expenditures jump to one-third of economic output.

Other countries from the Middle East and North Africa follow in this tier, with Oman third at 8.11% and Qatar fourth with 5.88%. Rounding out the top seven high spenders are Algeria, Kuwait, and Israel.

RankCountryMilitary Spend% of GDP
1🇺🇦 UkraineHigh9.46%
2🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaHigh8.19%
3🇴🇲 OmanHigh8.11%
4🇶🇦 QatarHigh5.88%
5🇩🇿 AlgeriaHigh5.70%
6🇰🇼 KuwaitHigh5.66%
7🇮🇱 IsraelHigh5.09%
8🇯🇴 JordanMedium4.81%
9🇦🇲 ArmeniaMedium4.53%
10🇦🇿 AzerbaijanMedium4.53%
11🇱🇧 LebanonMedium4.01%
12🇷🇺 RussiaMedium3.98%
13🇧🇭 BahrainMedium3.79%
14🇵🇰 PakistanMedium3.75%
15🇲🇦 MoroccoMedium3.72%
16🇺🇿 UzbekistanMedium3.56%
17🇺🇸 U.S.Medium3.48%
18🇨🇴 ColombiaMedium3.24%
19🇬🇷 GreeceMedium3.15%
20🇳🇦 NamibiaMedium3.09%
21🇧🇳 BruneiMedium3.09%
22🇸🇸 South SudanMedium3.05%
23🇹🇬 TogoMedium3.03%
24🇲🇱 MaliMedium2.90%
25🇨🇺 CubaMedium2.88%
26🇸🇬 SingaporeMedium2.86%
27🇧🇼 BotswanaMedium2.86%
28🇲🇲 MyanmarMedium2.76%
29🇧🇫 Burkina FasoMedium2.70%
30🇮🇶 IraqMedium2.69%
31🇰🇷 South KoreaMedium2.69%
32🇨🇬 Republic of CongoMedium2.68%
33🇹🇩 ChadMedium2.66%
34🇮🇳 IndiaMedium2.58%
35🇹🇳 TunisiaMedium2.58%
36🇪🇨 EcuadorMedium2.34%
37🇮🇷 IranMedium2.32%
38🇻🇳 Viet NamMedium2.28%
39🇰🇭 CambodiaMedium2.26%
40🇲🇷 MauritaniaMedium2.24%
41🇳🇪 NigerMedium2.21%
42🇧🇮 BurundiMedium2.21%
43🇹🇷 TurkeyMedium2.19%
44🇵🇱 PolandMedium2.17%
45🇱🇻 LatviaMedium2.14%
46🇱🇹 LithuaniaMedium2.13%
47🇪🇪 EstoniaMedium2.13%
48🇬🇧 United KingdomMedium2.12%
49🇺🇾 UruguayMedium2.11%
50🇷🇸 SerbiaMedium2.06%
51🇺🇬 UgandaMedium2.02%
52🇭🇷 CroatiaLow1.97%
53🇦🇺 AustraliaLow1.93%
54🇨🇱 ChileLow1.92%
55🇫🇷 FranceLow1.91%
56🇨🇾 CyprusLow1.90%
57🇷🇴 RomaniaLow1.87%
58🇧🇬 BulgariaLow1.85%
59🇸🇿 EswatiniLow1.82%
60🇳🇴 NorwayLow1.81%
61🇨🇫 Central African RepublicLow1.78%
62🇱🇰 Sri LankaLow1.77%
63🇵🇹 PortugalLow1.77%
64🇹🇼 TaiwanLow1.76%
65🇨🇳 ChinaLow1.72%
66🇬🇪 GeorgiaLow1.71%
67🇸🇰 SlovakiaLow1.67%
68🇬🇼 Guinea-BissauLow1.65%
69🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanLow1.62%
70🇬🇳 GuineaLow1.61%
71🇫🇮 FinlandLow1.60%
72🇸🇳 SenegalLow1.58%
73🇭🇳 HondurasLow1.56%
74🇬🇦 GabonLow1.56%
75🇲🇿 MozambiqueLow1.56%
76🇱🇸 LesothoLow1.56%
77🇲🇪 MontenegroLow1.54%
78🇫🇯 FijiLow1.54%
79🇯🇲 JamaicaLow1.49%
80🇦🇴 AngolaLow1.48%
81🇮🇹 ItalyLow1.48%
82🇭🇺 HungaryLow1.48%
83🇧🇴 BoliviaLow1.46%
84🇸🇨 SeychellesLow1.43%
85🇳🇱 NetherlandsLow1.41%
86🇸🇩 SudanLow1.39%
87🇷🇼 RwandaLow1.39%
88🇳🇵 NepalLow1.36%
89🇩🇰 DenmarkLow1.36%
90🇦🇱 AlbaniaLow1.34%
91🇪🇸 SpainLow1.34%
92🇹🇭 ThailandLow1.33%
93🇦🇫 AfghanistanLow1.33%
94🇳🇿 New ZealandLow1.32%
95🇨🇦 CanadaLow1.32%
96🇩🇪 GermanyLow1.31%
97🇲🇰 North MacedoniaLow1.30%
98🇧🇷 BrazilLow1.29%
99🇧🇿 BelizeLow1.28%
100🇸🇻 El SalvadorLow1.28%
101🇧🇩 BangladeshLow1.26%
102🇿🇲 ZambiaLow1.25%
103🇬🇶 Equatorial GuineaLow1.24%
104🇬🇾 GuyanaLow1.22%
105🇨🇮 Cote d'IvoireLow1.22%
106🇪🇬 EgyptLow1.20%
107🇵🇪 PeruLow1.20%
108🇧🇾 BelarusLow1.18%
109🇸🇪 SwedenLow1.17%
110🇰🇪 KenyaLow1.13%
111🇸🇮 SloveniaLow1.10%
112🇹🇱 Timor LesteLow1.08%
113🇹🇿 TanzaniaLow1.05%
114🇨🇲 CameroonLow1.04%
115🇹🇯 TajikistanLow1.03%
116🇯🇵 JapanLow1.03%
117🇧🇪 BelgiumLow1.02%
118🇱🇷 LiberiaLow1.00%
119🇲🇾 MalaysiaLow0.98%
120🇵🇭 PhilippinesLow0.96%
121🇵🇾 ParaguayLow0.95%
122🇽🇰 KosovoLow0.95%
123🇿🇦 South AfricaLow0.94%
124🇲🇼 MalawiLow0.92%
125🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaLow0.84%
126🇰🇿 KazakhstanLow0.83%
127🇦🇹 AustriaLow0.78%
128🇬🇲 GambiaLow0.76%
129🇹🇹 Trinidad & TobagoLow0.75%
130🇮🇩 IndonesiaLow0.74%
131🇨🇭 SwitzerlandLow0.73%
132🇨🇿 Czech RepublicLow0.71%
133🇩🇴 Dominican RepublicLow0.70%
134🇲🇳 MongoliaLow0.69%
135🇲🇬 MadagascarLow0.68%
136🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of CongoLow0.64%
137🇳🇬 NigeriaLow0.64%
138🇪🇹 EthiopiaLow0.64%
139🇸🇱 Sierra LeoneLow0.64%
140🇦🇷 ArgentinaLow0.63%
141🇱🇺 LuxembourgLow0.61%
142🇲🇽 MexicoLow0.61%
143🇳🇮 NicaraguaLow0.60%
144🇨🇻 Cape VerdeLow0.54%
145🇧🇯 BeninLow0.54%
146🇲🇹 MaltaLow0.48%
147🇬🇹 GuatemalaLow0.45%
148🇬🇭 GhanaLow0.43%
149🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaLow0.38%
150🇲🇩 MoldovaLow0.36%
151🇮🇪 IrelandLow0.27%
152🇿🇼 ZimbabweLow0.26%
153🇻🇪 VenezuelaLow0.20%
154🇭🇹 HaitiLow0.17%
155🇲🇺 MauritiusLow0.16%
156🇨🇷 Costa RicaLow0.00%
157🇮🇸 IcelandLow0.00%
158🇵🇦 PanamaLow0.00%

The medium group consists of 44 countries and is led by four nations (Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon) that all spend more than 4% of their GDP on their militaries. Other familiar countries known to have large military budgets, like Russia, Pakistan, the U.S., India and the UK, are also in this category.

The low spend group has a total of 107 countries, but also contains some surprises. For example, China, France, and Germany—all in the top 10 countries by absolute military spend—actually have similar amounts of military spend as a percent of GDP as Georgia, Cyprus, and North Macedonia respectively.

At the bottom of the table are countries with either low military importance, or strange technicalities. For example, Mauritius is one of the countries with the lowest military budgets because it doesn’t officially have a standing military, instead relying on two paramilitary forces (a special mobile force and a Coast Guard).

Similarly, Iceland allocates 0% of its GDP towards military spending. In place of a standing army, the country maintains a specialized peacekeeping force, a substantial Coast Guard, and relies on security alliances within NATO, of which it is a member and provides financial support to.

Ranking Defense Spending Per Capita

While the measure above equalizes military spend on economic strength, per-capita military spending shows how much countries allocate while accounting for population size.

On a per-capita basis (again using a five-year average), Qatar leads the ranks with a per-capita spend of $4,564, well-ahead of Israel at $2,535, and Saudi Arabia at $1,928.

RankCountryPer Capita Spend ($)
1🇶🇦 Qatar$4,564
2🇮🇱 Israel$2,535
3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$1,928
4🇸🇬 Singapore$1,837
5🇰🇼 Kuwait$1,815
6🇺🇸 U.S.$1,815
7🇳🇴 Norway$1,438
8🇴🇲 Oman$1,254
9🇦🇺 Australia$1,131
10🇧🇳 Brunei$959
11🇬🇧 UK$913
12🇰🇷 South Korea$894
13🇧🇭 Bahrain$863
14🇩🇰 Denmark$861
15🇫🇷 France$811
16🇫🇮 Finland$801
17🇳🇱 Netherlands$765
18🇱🇺 Luxembourg$694
19🇸🇪 Sweden$662
20🇨🇭 Switzerland$647
21🇨🇦 Canada$645
22🇬🇷 Greece$629
23🇩🇪 Germany$623
24🇳🇿 New Zealand$610
25🇪🇪 Estonia$535
26🇹🇼 Taiwan$495
27🇮🇹 Italy$494
28🇧🇪 Belgium$487
29🇷🇺 Russia$467
30🇱🇹 Lithuania$463
31🇵🇹 Portugal$417
32🇱🇻 Latvia$405
33🇨🇾 Cyprus$399
34🇯🇵 Japan$398
35🇪🇸 Spain$395
36🇦🇹 Austria$393
37🇵🇱 Poland$359
38🇺🇾 Uruguay$354
39🇸🇰 Slovakia$334
40🇱🇧 Lebanon$334
41🇸🇮 Slovenia$302
42🇺🇦 Ukraine$302
43🇭🇷 Croatia$294
44🇨🇱 Chile$292
45🇷🇴 Romania$258
46🇭🇺 Hungary$248
47🇮🇪 Ireland$235
48🇸🇨 Seychelles$230
49🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$226
50🇩🇿 Algeria$219
51🇦🇲 Armenia$217
52🇧🇼 Botswana$215
53🇯🇴 Jordan$207
54🇹🇷 Turkey$199
55🇨🇴 Colombia$197
56🇧🇬 Bulgaria$194
57🇨🇳 China$183
58🇲🇹 Malta$175
59🇨🇿 Czech Republic$175
60🇮🇷 Iran$169
61🇳🇦 Namibia$159
62🇮🇶 Iraq$145
63🇪🇨 Ecuador$138
64🇲🇪 Montenegro$137
65🇷🇸 Serbia$133
66🇹🇹 Trinidad & Tobago$131
67🇬🇦 Gabon$124
68🇲🇦 Morocco$122
69🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea$112
70🇲🇾 Malaysia$109
71🇧🇷 Brazil$107
72🇹🇭 Thailand$97
73🇬🇾 Guyana$92
74🇹🇳 Tunisia$91
75🇫🇯 Fiji$83
76🇲🇰 North Macedonia$83
77🇰🇿 Kazakhstan$82
78🇵🇪 Peru$81
79🇬🇪 Georgia$80
80🇧🇾 Belarus$80
81🇯🇲 Jamaica$77
82🇦🇱 Albania$76
83🇸🇿 Eswatini$72
84🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$69
85🇦🇷 Argentina$66
86🇧🇿 Belize$60
87🇲🇽 Mexico$59
88🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$58
89🇻🇳 Viet Nam$58
90🇿🇦 South Africa$56
91🇸🇻 El Salvador$54
92🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina$54
93🇮🇳 India$53
94🇨🇬 Republic of Congo$53
95🇵🇾 Paraguay$52
96🇧🇴 Bolivia$51
97🇵🇰 Pakistan$49
98🇺🇿 Uzbekistan$44
99🇦🇴 Angola$43
100🇽🇰 Kosovo$42
101🇲🇷 Mauritania$42
102🇭🇳 Honduras$42
103🇪🇬 Egypt$41
104🇰🇭 Cambodia$36
105🇲🇲 Myanmar$35
106🇵🇭 Philippines$33
107🇲🇳 Mongolia$33
108🇮🇩 Indonesia$31
109🇧🇩 Bangladesh$27
110🇹🇱 Timor Leste$27
111🇲🇱 Mali$26
112🇸🇳 Senegal$24
113🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire$23
114🇹🇬 Togo$21
115🇰🇪 Kenya$21
116🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan$20
117🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$20
118🇬🇳 Guinea$19
119🇱🇸 Lesotho$19
120🇨🇻 Cape Verde$19
121🇬🇹 Guatemala$19
122🇹🇩 Chad$18
123🇸🇸 South Sudan$18
124🇸🇩 Sudan$18
125🇺🇬 Uganda$18
126🇿🇼 Zimbabwe$17
127🇿🇲 Zambia$16
128🇲🇺 Mauritius$16
129🇨🇲 Cameroon$16
130🇳🇵 Nepal$15
131🇳🇬 Nigeria$14
132🇳🇮 Nicaragua$12
133🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau$12
134🇹🇿 Tanzania$12
135🇨🇺 Cuba$11
136🇷🇼 Rwanda$11
137🇲🇩 Moldova$11
138🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea$10
139🇳🇪 Niger$10
140🇹🇯 Tajikistan$9
141🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8
142🇲🇿 Mozambique$8
143🇬🇭 Ghana$8
144🇧🇯 Benin$7
145🇧🇮 Burundi$7
146🇦🇫 Afghanistan$6
147🇬🇲 Gambia$6
148🇪🇹 Ethiopia$5
149🇻🇪 Venezuela$5
150🇲🇼 Malawi$4
151🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$3
152🇲🇬 Madagascar$3
153🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of Congo$3
154🇱🇷 Liberia$3
155🇭🇹 Haiti$2
156🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0
157🇮🇸 Iceland$0
158🇵🇦 Panama$0

Measured this way, we get a perspective of how small defense budgets can be per person, even if the total expenditure is large.

For example, India has the fourth-highest total defense expenditure in 2022, but because of its massive population only sets aside $53 per resident for its military, putting it solidly at the bottom third of the per-capita rankings.

Patterns Revealed By Measuring Military Spend

Changing how we look at a country’s military budget can reveal a lot more than just looking at absolute numbers.

For example, the Middle East is the region with the highest spenders on defense as a percentage of their GDP, giving us insight into regional security concerns.

Countries from the medium group of military spending—including parts of Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia—highlight past or recent conflict zones between neighbors, countries with internal strife, or countries wary of a regional aggressor. Ukraine’s average per capita military spend, for example, was just $122.4 from 2018 to 2021. The next year, it jumped nearly 10 times to $1,018.66 per person after Russia’s invasion.

In fact, European military spending saw its sharpest one-year jump in 30 years as a direct result of the war.

Alongside European anxieties, ongoing tension between China and Taiwan has also contributed to increased military spending in Asia and Oceania. Will these budgets continue their dramatic ascent or will they rise evenly alongside their relative economies in 2023?

Data note: For these comparisons, the creator is calculating five-year averages (using data from 2018-2022) for military spending as a percentage of GDP and per-capita military spending for each country. The military expenditure data is pulled from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Data for some countries is missing or may vary significantly from official figures. Countries with up to
two years of missing data had averages calculated on the years available, while countries with three or more years of missing data have been removed from this dataset, including: Djibouti, Eritrea, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Yemen.

Please see SIPRI’s methodologies page for more details on how they collect their data and create estimates.

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