Which Is Most Popular – Sex, Drugs or Rock and Roll?

There’s a fascinating new search tool recently made available by Google. It gives you the ability to freely search 5.2 million digitized books (over 500 billion words!) published between 1500 and 2008. Why should you care? It gives us unique insights into what people have been thinking and writing about over the past 500 years. Results are provided graphically so that you can get a glimpse of how a topic has trended over time. You can try it for yourself here.

Since 2004, Google has offered an interesting tool called Google Trends, which tracks the popularity of web search terms. That tool provides a view into the collective zeitgeist of millions of Internet users but the data is limited to just a few years. The new tool provides a much more comprehensive view of word usage going all the way back to 1500. To illustrate, here are a few, admittedly facetious, searches:

Which is most popular, sex, drugs or rock and roll? Apparently, sex wins by a long shot. Although, it appears to be on the decline lately. Go figure.

Beatles vs. Stones. Despite the Rolling Stones longevity (over 40 years together vs. the Beatles measly 10), the Fab Four have always been the hotter topic among writers.

Beatles vs. Jesus – remember John Lennon’s infamous quote about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus? Apparently, not so much…

And finally, the Civil War…

I expected to see “Civil War” begin a long spike in the 1860s, which it does, but this graph reveals there was another civil war that was widely written about in the mid-1600s. In 1642 the English Civil War took place (also called the English Revolution). Until generating this graph, I was not familiar with the “other civil war” but apparently it was a pretty popular subject back in the day.

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