Obama’s new memoir boasted the highest first-week print sales of any adult non-fiction book since BookScan® began tracking the U.S. print books industry in 2004

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y., December 9, 2020— “A Promised Land,” the latest political memoir by President Barack Obama, sold more than 835,000 copies in its first week, making it the top-selling first-week nonfiction book since BookScan® started tracking the publishing industry in 2004. The title with the second highest first-week sales was “Becoming,” by former First Lady Michelle Obama (711,000), followed by “My Life,” by President Bill Clinton (606,000), according to The NPD Group (www.npd.com).

Led by Obama’s memoir, and brisk sales of “Too Much and Never Enough,” by Mary Trump, sales of biography and autobiography books have so far increased 3.4 million units this year, contributing 17% of adult non-fiction book gains.

“Non-fiction books of all kinds fared very well this year, bolstered by the excitement surrounding the presidential election and with the additional reading time afforded by pandemic mitigation orders,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “From political memoirs, to nonfiction books about race, to political commentary and opinion, U.S. readers were reading books at a higher rate than usual.”

A good year for non-fiction book sales

Adult non-fiction, which is the largest U.S. print book super-category accounting for 41% of the total US market, rose 3.3% compared to 2019 on sales of more than 257 million units through November 28, 2020. The top-growing sub-category was general non-fiction, which rose by 5.2 million units, year over year — comprising 25% of all adult non-fiction sales gains. Books that specifically explored race in America played a crucial role in the rise of the general non-fiction category in 2020, led by “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo (837, 000 units); “Caste,” by Isabel Wilderson (419,000 units); and “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo (330,000 units).

History and political science book sales rose more than 3.2 million units, year over year, contributing to 16% of adult non-fiction gains so far this year. The fastest-growing subjects in this category were political commentary and opinion, which increased sales by one million units this year, and the subcategory of civil rights, which grew 629,000 units. Top-selling political titles included “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi (669,000 units) and “Live Free or Die,” by Sean Hannity (543,000 units).

About BookScan®

BookScan® is the gold standard in point-of-sale tracking for the publishing market, covering approximately 85 percent of all the print books sold in the U.S. through direct reporting from all major retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, independent bookstores, and many others. Each sale of the more than 13 million units tracked on a weekly basis includes geographic information making it possible to identify key markets, map regional sales trends, and index the likelihood of purchase in 200 major metro areas. BookScan® is also the exclusive provider of ALR data for Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and Sam’s Club to U.S. publishers. 


PubTrack Digital™ offers a comprehensive view of today’s digital book market. Featuring information from more than 450 participants, including small, medium, and large U.S. publishers, this service provides unprecedented access to the top 80 percent of the traditionally published e-book market.

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