Wikidata Meets World Literature

by Christopher Johnson and Frank Fischer

You can currently access and contribute to 281 active Wikipedia language versions. What follows is a top-25 list of ‘books’ ranked by the number of articles dedicated to these ‘books’ in different Wikipedia language editions (results first, explanation thereafter):

Wikidata item Title Authorlabel Linkcount
Q8258 One Thousand and One Nights anonymous 116
Q15228 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien 115
Q480 Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes 113
Q25338 Le Petit Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 110
Q40591 The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels 108
Q459842 Book of Mormon Joseph Smith 106
Q208460 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell 102
Q8251 The Art of War Sun Tzu 95
Q92640 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll 93
Q8279 Shahnameh Ferdowsi 93
Q74287 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien 91
Q43361 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone J. K. Rowling 86
Q1396889 Animal Farm George Orwell 85
Q8265 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin 82
Q41675 Guinness World Records Craig Glenday 80
Q48244 Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler 80
Q8269 The Tale of Genji Murasaki Shikibu 79
Q165318 Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky 77
Q47209 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets J. K. Rowling 77
Q47598 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J. K. Rowling 75
Q46887 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince J. K. Rowling 75
Q80817 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J. K. Rowling 75
Q123397 The Republic Plato 74
Q170583 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen 74
Q147787 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy 73

Sports commentator proclaims: Legendary Arabian story collection first, the Lord of the Rings a close runner-up, Spanish hack Cervantes completing the podium! But let’s curb our enthusiasm for this quirky race for a moment. You cannot be cautious enough when interpreting this kind of lists/rankings. There are a hundred things you’d have to involve when doing this.

Our ranking reveals nothing on the nature or quality of, let’s say, these 110 language versions of “Le Petit Prince”. We could deal with a one-sentence article in 50 Wikipedias for all we know. Understanding the genesis of Wikipedia and measuring its contents is a research field of its own. And Wikidata, although building on Wikipedia content, of course, is yet another thing whose characteristics you’d have to take into account before jumping to any rash conclusions.

Let’s start slowly. What this ranking suggests to show is a list of 25 ‘books’ (we’ll come back to this term later) that are of whatsoever importance across many countries/cultures/language communities. It is not at all a proper basis to redefine the term ‘world literature’ for the digital age. But it does include the idea of ‘world’ as part of ‘world literature’, meaning ‘books’ that transcend national and language borders, also if their literary value may vary considerably. In any case, before starting to interpret anything, you’ll always have to communicate how exactly you generated this kind of results. So …

… as an example of how the Wikidata Query Service can facilitate this type of quantitative analysis, we wrote a SPARQL query that orders ‘instances of’ ‘books’ with an author by ‘site link’. This means that if a work of literature has the statement ‘instance of book’ in Wikidata, and it has a Wikipedia page, it can be ranked by the number of Wikipedias that have a page for it.

This is easily reproducible for you at your own machines, just head over to and copy & paste this in the upper box, then hit “Execute” (and while the query is being processed, throw a glance at Alan Liu’s criticism of the concentration “on pushing the ‘execute’ button” in the Digital Humanities):

prefix schema: <>
prefix wd: <>
prefix wdt: <>

SELECT ?s ?desc ?authorlabel (COUNT(DISTINCT ?sitelink) as ?linkcount)
  ?s wdt:P31 wd:Q571 .
  ?sitelink schema:about ?s .
  ?s wdt:P50 ?author
    ?s rdfs:label ?desc filter (lang(?desc) = "en").
    ?author rdfs:label ?authorlabel filter (lang(?authorlabel) = "en").
} GROUP BY ?s ?desc ?authorlabel ORDER BY DESC(?linkcount)

Did it work for you?

By the way, changing the object criteria from ‘book’ to ‘literary work’ (wd:Q7725634) returns a different result, that includes books of the Bible (that are not classified as ‘instance of book’). Running it without the author, also yields a slightly different result, as there are a few works without an author that are very widely translated (like, for example, today’s winner, “One Thousand and One Nights”).

The query that yielded the above ranking was run today (April 25, 2016) at 08:25 CEST. If you save the results of your query (like we did, in CSV format, which can be done directly in Wikidata’s Query Service) and compare it to the same query conducted at a later date, you would have a useful rudiment for the analysis of how certain works gain or lose importance in the Wikipedian universe. Something we might come back to later. Until then, happy SPARQL’ing!

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