Shortly after joining the staff of USA TODAY I received a data set I would analyze almost every week for the next decade. It was the weekly Best-Selling Books list, which ranked the nation’s top-selling books based on confidential sales data. The list not only produced an endless stream of story ideas to pitch, but it also captured the zeitgeist of America in a singular way.

For example, did you know that cookbooks sell a bit more during the week of Mother’s Day, or that Oprah Winfrey turned many obscure writers into number one best-selling authors just by having them on her show? Week after week, the book list editor and I pored ...

Get Practical SQL now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.