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Wed, Aug. 17th, 2005, 10:38 am
The Illustrated Book of World Rankings

The Illustrated Book of World Rankings, 5th Edition

Edited by George Thomas Kurian

Published by M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2001.

This is a hardbound book of 8.5" by 10" running to 471 pages plus some preferatory material.

The book is a compilation of comparative international statistics. The book is divided into topic areas with specific measures under each in the table of contents. The topic areas are as follows:

  1. Geography and Climate
  2. Population
  3. Vital Statistics and Family
  4. Race and Religion
  5. Politics and International Relations
  6. Military Power
  7. Economy
  8. Business and Investment
  9. Finance
  10. Trade
  11. Agriculture
  12. Industry
  13. Energy
  14. Labor
  15. Transportation and Communication
  16. Environment
  17. Consumption and Housing
  18. Health and Social Services
  19. Food
  20. Education
  21. New Technologies
  22. Crime and Law Wnforcement
  23. Media
  24. Cities
  25. Culture
  26. Women
  27. Global Indexes

For an example of the depth of coverage, the section titled "Women," which is smaller than most of the sections, has the following data:

  • Gender-Related Development Index
  • Gender Empowerment Measure
  • Women's Share of Earned Income
  • Seats Held by Women in National Legislatures
  • Female College and University Students
  • Female College and University Science Enrollment
  • Female Administrators and Managers
  • Female Professional and Technical Workers
  • Women in Government

Data tables rank the countries of the world in order of what is being measured. Most of these tables are introduced with a paragraph-long explanation of the statistic being reported and what it measures, with caveats sometimes noted.

The information is usually depressingly unsurprising, in that most of the tables look like a ranking of countries by general economic development. There are many exceptions, however, and these are what make the book interesting. For example, the United States ranks 70th in literacy, behind countries as diverse as Samoa, Armenia, Barbados, Romania, Cuba, and most of the former Soviet countries. It's also a surprise that the United States ranks fourth in film production, behind India, China and the Philippines, and that the country with the most libraries is Russia, followed by Germany and then Poland. Also, the United States is rather heavily policed compared to other countries, with many more police officers per capita than North Korea as well as the European countries. (Middle Eastern countries and dictatorships in Asia, Africa and South America have the most.)

Many of the statistics, as acknowledged in the introduction, suffer from the difficulty of comparing numbers that were collected differently. For example, the high reported crime rates of Scandinavian countries versus African countries likely has to do with what is defined as a crime and handled (and recorded for statistical purposes) by the legal system.

The ten-page appendix consists of an impressively long list of the international statistical sources used in compiling the book, however, these statistical sources are not cited directly from the tables, which is a real shortcoming. The index is well-done and pretty thorough.

The book has a lot in it but doesn't have every statistic that you might be of interest to you. For example, I have often heard about the ranking of the United States in prison population as a percentage of total population. (I have heard that it ranks first at times and at other times that it ranks second behind Russia.) This statistic doesn't seem to be reported in the book.

Generally speaking, a very nice and useful compilation.