The Top 10 Lists of All Time

The world of bloggers seem to be firmly divided into two groups: those who hate lists and those who like lists. This being a list of two puts me firmly in the latter camp.

Those who hate lists. I get a lot of criticism for some of my posts. I’ve used lists on only about 20% of my posts, no more than that. But because of this, some people comment, “oh, there goes James again – using lists.” As if there’s some sort of intellectual laziness in neatly organizing material with a common theme in the form of a list. Any book with a table of contents, of course, does this as well.

But there seems to be some intellectual snobbery, as if its an accusation when someone uses a list and others point it out. “Why couldn’t he use a bunch of paragraphs instead?”

Those who like lists. I like my ideas to be easily read. There’s a lot of competition for what your eyes can look at. It’s easy to click away. Even on my browser right now I have about 12 tabs open. It takes seconds for me to move from one tab to the next. Lists allow your eyes to dance down the page. It allows the blogger to give the reader a roadmap on how to speed read through a post. I’m more than happy when people read every word in a post of mine (and I do think every word is important) but I understand that people are busy. Perhaps they will read the highlights, the important points, first, and then read more deeply later or more deeply  the topics that most interest them.

And bloggers aren’t the first to realize that lists are an important historic tradition for holding people’s attention and getting an important point across. Here are 10 other lists that have changed the course of history.

1)      The Ten Commandments. Moses knew what he was doing. He has to organize an obedient society around a bunch of renegades in the desert who had known nothing in their lives other than slavery. So he gave ten simple rules and called it “the Ten Commandments” and, as Moses said, they were written by God so you better pay attention. Very simple. Moses, with his one blog post may have been one of the best bloggers of all time. To a large extent, all law ever since has been roughly based on the Ten Commandments who brought down from is little hiking trip in the mountains.

2)      The 8-Fold Path. Perhaps the best entrepreneur in history. Buddha taught a very esoteric path of meditation, silence, and what he called “Nirvana”. But he knew that would not appeal to the  masses. Why did he need the masses? Because he was always traveling between warring kingdoms and he was afraid he would die if the masses didn’t recognize his guru status. So he came up with a simpler version of Buddhism . A way to follow the tenets of the Buddha even if you weren’t willing to sit down for 15 hours straight and stare at the center of your head and attempt to achieve Nirvana. He called this the “8-Fold path” and similar to the “ten commandments” it obtained a somewhat easy-to-follow moral code that, at the very least, would put you closer to the path of enlightment in future times.  And if 8 items were too much for people he also had “The Four Noble Truths”. [See also, “Was Buddha a Bad Father”]

3)      The Bill of Rights. America has just broken free from monarchy. The idea of “freedom” was important. But the founding fathers couldn’t just say, “ok, you’re free, go ahead and do whatever you want. Nor could they write a manifesto like Jefferson did with the Declaration of Independence because, let’s face it, the Declaration is boring and unreadable and most adults only remember the first few words. But we all pretty much know the Bill of Rights. Why? Because it is structured in a simple to read list. It’s the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and written at the same time as the Constitution. If it wasn’t a list, we wouldn’t remember it so easily. [See also, “Is July 4 a Scam”]

4)      The Yoga Sutras. Written by Patanjali in 300 BC it can be argued that all modern yoga stems from this. It was 195 lines. Again, structured as a list. It was sort of a marketing response to Buddhism’s 8-Fold path (there are “8 limbs” described in the Yoga Sutras as the path to yogic enlightenment). Buddha was stealing away so many devotees from Hinduism that I suspect Patanjali said enough is enough and threw together these 8 limbs in 195 lines. It basically repeats Buddha’s 8 fold path (more or less) and also throws in the fact that you need physical activity (which later became what we now call “yoga”). [See also, “How I’ve been Humiliated by Yoga”]

Christy Turlington effectively spreading the word of yoga)

5)      The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Martin Luther couldn’t just write: “Here’s why I hate the Catholic Church”. He wrote “95 Theses”. A list. He knew it would be easier for people to digest that way. And digest they did. It split Catholicism right in half after 1500 years of unity in Europe. It took a list to do that. If all he did was write, “well, I think baptism is silly” he probably would’ve been killed and we never would’ve heard from him again. Instead. “95 Theses….”  and he tacked it onto the equivalent of (the church wall) and Protestantism was off to the races.

6)      The 5 Pillars of Islam. You can either read the 500 pages of the Koran, or if you want to follow the principles of basic Islamic life, you can follow the 5 Pillars of Islam, which mention nothing about reading the Koran. Mohammed knew he needed to quickly convert (in some cases at knife point) millions of people into believing in his approach to Judeo-Christian theology. He wasn’t going to sit around and teach everybody a 500 page book and then go on to the next million people. Instead, he took over a region, spread out his 5 pillars, and then moved onto the next region. People got it. It was a simple list. And now Islam is the biggest religion on the planet.

7)      The Forbes 400. In the American Religion, money is king. I’m not saying this in a good or bad sense. We need money to support our families, to buy our freedom, to have the comfort to pursue our passions and creative/spiritual pursuits. Forbes, in 1982, was facing decling readership after record unemployment, sky high interest rates, and a decade of malaise. So what did they do? They made a list. The most popular list each year in America. The magazine that outsells all other financial magazines when it comes out. That magazine stays on the bookshelves for the entire year: The Forbes 400, the list of the 400 richest Americans that year. As I write this, the Forbes 400 is coming out this morning. How do I know this? Because I write for Forbes and we all got an email saying, “anything you guys can think about to write about the Forbes 400, then go for it.” It’s nonstop material and PR for Forbes readers and writers for the entire years. The first list had 13 billionaires on it. But now, 30 years later, it’s all billionaires. And I’ll read it today with fascination and envy.

(#s 1 and 2 on the Forbes 400, depending on the year)

8)      Aristotle. Every blogger’s hero should be Aristotle. The man lived by lists. Every topic he covered was dominated by lists. There are the “5 elements” (Fire, Earth, Air, Water, Aether – this last element an addition to Democritus’s “four elements” list. Bloggers always build on top of each other). There are the four causes in causality. The “three psyches” in humans. The “six parts of a tragedy” and so on.

9)      The Six Days of Creation. The original list of all. Whoever wrote the Bible (the mysterious “J” during King Solomon’s time as theorized by Harold Bloom) knew that she (he suspects female origin) needed to start off with a bang. Not the Big Bang (blasphemy) but a list. She couldn’t just say “and then God created plants, and then God created stars, etc” she had to give a solid organized list. Six days. And for those who are list crazy, there’s a seventh day – let’s all take a rest to celebrate.

10)   My Favorite lists: No list is complete without self-promotion (Commandment  #1 in the 10 Commandments for instance).  Three of my favorite list posts are

  1. How to Be the Luckiest Guy in 4 Easy Steps:
  2. 9 Ways to Guarantee Success:
  3. 33 Unusual Ways To Be a Better Writer

And, of course (more blatant self-promotion), my latest book expands on several of my list posts and provides modifications the “Daily Practice” described in list #1. Additionally it contains a list which has not appeared in blog form: the 10 commandments of James-ism.

Ok, so now anyone who ever criticizes my use of lists can kindly be directed to this list and they can argue all they want. But, more importantly, if anyone has additional lists they think are up there in stature, please add them to the comments.





  • justin ruiz

    I think that ESPN does a good job with their top 10 plays. I like sports, but there is no way that I would be able to take the time every day to watch all of those sporting events and see all of those great feats of athleticism. I also think it is inspirational to see people succeed on a regular basis like that. Every time I see it, I am motivated to go out and do great things, whereas, when I watch the news I am just depressed. It is like most news stations are trying to give you a list of all the bad things happening in the world.

    Thanks for the awesome posts James. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • When I first started reading your blog a few months ago, I loved the idea of lists. So much so, that I attempted to pay homage to your listing/writing/message skills.
    The 12 Things I learned while Being Held Hostage by Tamil Rebels was inspired by your inspired use of lists. I have no doubt that the world would be a better place if people were more economic in their use of words.

    Maybe Presidential debates would be a good place to start. Six seconds to answer a question and 3 seconds for a rebuttal.

    If that catches on, you would be in line for a Nobel

    • Anonymous

      My parents were held hostage by Tamil Rebels, so I don’t find any humor in making a list of the things you learned from them. They didn’t have the luxury of european toilet paper. I’m not upset about that, but #9 on your list, that the NY Mets will never win another World Series has me hopping mad. But still, I’m glad you got released.

      • Let’snot forget about those unfortunate Tamil rebels who have themselves been held hostage.

  • Dtester

    Definitely in the Top Ten list of lists ever written!

  • Absolutely Fabulous! This post about lists makes it onto my list! 

    Thanks again James, for your awesome writings :)

  • Anonymous

    People Magazine – Most beautiful people comes to mind.

    I like your lists, FWIW.  Don’t always agree but its a good form for conveying thoughts and relative ideas (hence the popularity throughout history).

    BTW, that Christy Turlington image has shown up a couple of times now. Just gotta ask, this isn’t some yoga porn fixation you’re developing is it? Might be a good idea for a niche porn site though….hmmm.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone:  your wish list
    Kids: A list for Santa
    Old guys (or not): Your bucket list

    These are things that keep us moving forward…..

  • Marc Hansen

    An evil yet practical list: The 48 Laws of Power

  • Kevin

    Very meta James…a list about lists! Also, thanks for the encore presentation of the Christy Turlington picture.

  • FonzyShazam

    I love this one: “Partial List of My Favorite Things”.

  • Rbrown

    great piece.  readers love lists.  many journalists hate them.  good piece on the topic from Time a few years back…,9171,1694466,00.html

  • John H

    Another great post James. Whenever I feel listless I read (or re-read) your blog for a boost. I’m not making lists in my Daily Practice but I’m wondering if I should start. My creative muscle is getting lots of excercise without list making but my day would probably be more organised if I started with a list.

  • Kepeneter

    I’ve often thought that the Beatitudes (8) comprise a list on contrary indicators.

  • Anonymous

    Ten reasons why I love +James Altucher’s lists1. They make me questions my assumptions2. They startle my conscience3. He resets my internal barometer4. He makes me laugh5. They give me a break from the daily grind6. I always learn something I didn’t know7. He is totally, brutally honest. ‘Tis refreshing8. They ignite conversations with my friends9. They teach me things I want to teach my kids10. Because he makes great lists

  • In India the caste system has historically been one of the most important lists. It was an easy way for everyone to remember what jobs to do in life and what fate had given you. I don’t deny that many aspects of the caste system are backwards and encourage harmful acts, but the fact remains the caste system is one of the most important lists in what is today the second most populace country.

    Great post, James.

  • I’m all for lists.  Fits in with my KISS lifestyle, lol.  In the end, everything boils down to fundamentals anyway.  Good work, James.

  • Kevin Faul

    Top 5 Reasons I Like James’ Blog:1. His lists- His blog can be read each morning in just a few minutes. Usually it’s easy to get his point just reading the first few words. This technique works and is used in business proposals all the time. Straight & to the point.2. Relate to the material – Though I have never met Mr. A., his willingness to bare some soul makes him seem like a friend. 3.New Lessons and Inspirations – Knowing the ways other people approach this complex life to give something back is both inspiring and educational. I appreciate his approach and have gleaned valuable methods. (thanks J)4.It’s Hilarious – some of the stories are absolutely hilarious and Jame’s method of telling his stories has me laughing out loud. ( No Advertising- I like that his site doesn’t have the NASCAR look of other sites, and I like that what ‘advertising’ is there is for his own book. I am planning on purchasing said book soon. 
    I’m not as skilled as Mr. A, but hope this feeble attempt serves as a small token of appreciation.

    • My favorite list. Along with the other list below about this blog. Thanks! Btw, that 10 scams post was like the post that kept giving. Over 500 comments. I want to set up forums maybe to continue it. Trying now to figure out how to add more community features here because I feel like once I post a post, the comments die out on the older posts.

  • Guruprasad V

    Entertaining read

  • 1.  I like lists as long as they’re not stupid
    2.  I have never managed to write a post in list form without it being stupid
    3.  I am jealous of both the billionaires on the Forbes 400 and your adept use of lists

    • 1. Agree on #1
      2. I don’t believe you. Please send links.
      3. Agreed and thank you.

      • I have never published a list post because I’ve never written one that’s not been stupid.  But this is one of my favorite posts I’ve written that is not a list:  I am terrible at blogging.  I forget to do it.

  • Hi James, 

    I for one am a fan of lists and my last blog post is a list of the books that changed my life.

    I like your blog post, apart from the fact that you mentioned Muhammad forced people to convert sometimes at knife point? Having studied this area, I haven’t come across such an incident, but would be interested to learn about it if you could send me your sources.


    • Hi Maia, thanks. Feel free to link to your list of books.

      In terms of Mohammed, I am talking specifically about the incident which Karen Armstrong (generally someone who is open-minded on Islam) describes in one of her books (“Muhammad”) about when he tries to convince the jews that he was hanging out with (he originally bowed down to Jerusalem instead of Mecca) that he should be on their list of prophets. They refused and the rest can be read in her book.

  • doug

    You wrote, “…law ever since has been roughly based on the Ten Commandments who brought down from his little hiking trip in the mountains.”

    Hundreds of millions of people share your narrative about that hike in the mountains and our laws.

    When a few hundred million people think alike those thoughts are common.  But like so much “common sense” that narrative is wrong.  At least it is not compatible with Exodus which contains the story about Moses and the mountain.  And Deuteronomy recounts the Ten Commandments but not the story about rock tablets on a mountain.

    Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that God wrote the Ten Commandments on a couple slabs of stone.  Then he gave those stones to Moses who broke the first copy while having an angry fit.  God, in an unusually forgiving mood, wrote the Ten Commandments a second time on a second set of stones.

    According to Exodus, Moses descended Mt. Zion with that second set of stones inscribed by God’s own finger.  I think we should assume these were important since He was willing to write it twice but the problem is the stuff he wrote on stone was not the Ten Commandments.

    The popular, commonly known, Ten Commandments were spoken by God as he stood in a “thick cloud” according to Exodus 19.  Exodus 34 contains the bit about Moses, the stones, and the mountain.  Exodus 34 doesn’t state what was written on the stones but after Moses descended with the stones God made a somewhat rambling speech in which he commanded the chosen people to avoid molten gods.  Which is understandable in the context of what happen during Moses last journey up the mountain.  

    In that speech God also commanded the destruction of altars, images, and the agriculture of other desert tribes. He also approved the taking of the daughters of these other tribes.

    There was nothing in that speech about murder, lyin’, stealin’ or your cheatin’ heart.  (Those things are in Ten Commandants of Exodus 19.)

    If the stones had contained a reference to these most important major crimes I would expect to find some reference to them in the speech.  After all the speech did refer to the molten god which the Hebrews had constructed during Moses’ first trip up the mountain. 

    More could be written here, but in short I don’t see any biblical reason to think the Ten Commandments were both spoken – from a dense fog – and written twice on a rock.

    Our laws codify our feelings – as in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and do no harm. What’s more, these feelings were in existence, and codified, for thousands of years before the chosen people took a long walk in the desert.

    For what it’s worth, the last commandment which God gave Moses freshly down from the mountain for the second time was, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid (a young goat) in his mother’s milk.”  Exodus 34:26.   As far as I know that hasn’t made it into law except perhaps in culinary schools.


    • Doug, thanks for the education on that. Btw, on that last commandment, that’s the basis for “don’t eat milk with your meat” in kosher laws.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for clarifying this. Long post, but glad I read it.

    • Matt

      First, it was Exodus 20.  Second, in Deuteronomy 5:22, it says the ten commandments were written on two tablets.  You can argue that they are different tablets from Exodus 34, but I don’t know that argument.  Lastly, to say that these ten laws were codified thousands of years before Moses demands some evidence.

      • doug


        number of texts were mashed together (650 BCE or so) to form the Exodus most of
        us know.  The earliest of those texts were
        written between 1440 and 1400 B.C. about a thousand years after the Code of
        Hammurabi, King of Babylon, B.C. 2285-2242. 

        Code of Hammurabi

        3.  Lying

        6. through 10. Stealing, theft, and selling stolen

        11. Fraud

        14. Kidnapping

        15. Robbery

        129. and 130. Adultery

        154. through 158. Incest

        195. Honor Fathers

        196. An eye for an eye

        201. Tooth for a tooth

         202. through 214.  Hitting people

         I hurried through a translation of the Code to compile
        the above list and I didn’t see a code about Murder but I’m pretty sure I just
        missed it.

        From Wikipedia – The Code
        of Hammurabi was one of several sets of laws in the ancient Near East. Earlier collections of
        laws include the Code of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (ca.
        2050 BCE), the Laws of Eshnunna (ca.
        1930 BCE) and the codex of Lipit-Ishtar ofIsin (ca.
        1870 BCE), while later ones include the Hittite laws, the Assyrian laws, and Mosaic Law. These
        codes come from similar cultures in a relatively small geographical area, and
        they have passages which resemble each other.
        While it is impossible to support the notion that god of
        Moses on the mountain first gave the laws we follow today, my larger point is
        that our laws are not heaven sent but arise from our evolved nature within our
        evolved culture.  These evolved natures
        were present a hundred thousand years before even Hammurabi.  And they exist in other members of the animal
        kingdom.  It is a rare bird that has read the Ten Commandments.

        My point was never about just those Ten
        Commandments of Exodus 19, but about the nature of all our laws – before and since
        Hammurabi (who was much more complete than the god of Moses).


      • doug

        Sorry.  You are correct it was Exodus 20 not 19.

        Actually if your read the most recent and modern translations of Exodus you will find that the texts are changing to clarify (disappear) those items which don’t read quite right or have internal inconsistencies.  I imagine its a process that has been going on since various texts were mashed together to make the seventh century BCE version of Exodus. 

  • Julian

    > The Top 10 Lists of All Time

    Ironically the only word that is not a cliché in this list title is “Lists”.

  • My fav lists: Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums.

    Then the man who listened to all those albums:

    What’s interesting is that after that exercise he then explains why he hates lists: their subjective and arbitrary and often superficial.

    But magazines, newspapers and bloggers [me included] love them cause there a great way to generate content. Readers like them too because you can blaze through them and feel like you learned something. Exactly what is questionable. ;)

  • Great post – love your work.

    James – what religious texts or books about religion would you recommend?

  • How about the 13 Articles of Faith, a quick summary of some of the beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Christians)?

  • Billy

    Islam isn’t the biggest religion.  It’s #2.

  • Miketdikey

     lists- continue using them  – you’d be impossible to read otherwise.

  • David Horwitz

    James, Thanks for the new book.  Very helpful.  Been following you since I bought your first book Trade Like a Hedge Fund when it first came out.  Thanks again.  David

  • Steve Orr

    Outstanding! Lists demonstrate that some thought has been given to the topic and an effort has been made to organize those thoughts. I love it when non-fiction authors tell you what’s coming.  I saved a lot of time the other day because the author told me that if I had a good working knowledge of XYZ I could move on to the next chapter. At some point the “stream of consciousness” just becomes babble and noise. I also like it when the list contains bolded phrases which summarize the list item. This helps greatly making it possible for intelligent skimming where I can skip that point and move on to the next.

  • Koorosh

    Hi James

    Are you still giving away the new free book if we send you proof of purchase that you mentioned in your blog post?

  • Tuzo

    >  Every blogger’s hero should be Aristotle. 

    You almost got it right, James: every *person’s* hero should be Aristotle.  :)

    Plus George Carlin de-constructs the Ten Commandments (NSFW):

  • Loanauditscal

    You totally forgot the 12 step program.

  • Anonymous

    “And now Islam is the biggest religion on the planet.” Get your facts straight. Christians = 2.2 billion, Muslims = 1.3 billion.  Christianity is and has been the worlds largest religion. While Islam grew quickly early on, due to conquest, Christianity is growing far faster today, in places like China, while Islam merely maintains it’s growth merely by population growth. They are not conquering any new lands, and not spreading by voluntary conversions nearly at the rate as Christians are. Globally speaking.

    • Ron Fontaine

      Your forgetting that about 14% of the worlds population are non-religious or atheist. That equals 1 billion people right there.

      In addition, there are probably more than a billion people who publicly claim they believe in a certain religion but in reality do not think much about it – more just a matter of accident of birth than anything else.

      I’d say, all things considered, the majority of people do not really practice or put their faith in any religion at all. That number is growing with time. Atheism is the fastest growing religion world wide.

      • Sense Schooler

        There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. George Bernard Shaw
        actually, atheism is a belief not a religion.
        whatever your faith, live for peace, love and happiness!
        Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. H. L. Mencken

    • I consider Christianity to be an umbrella encompassing many,often completely different,religions

      • James, what do you mean by “different religions”? It is true that “Christian” can connote many different things. Christianity is mainly divided into Catholicism (the first Church, as it has developed to this point) and Protestants, which encompass all of the different groups that have disagreed with official Catholic interpretation or policy at one point or another.

        Most denominations (that’s what Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, etc. are) believe the same thing, with a slightly different interpretation. “Christian” doesn’t apply to people who don’t believe that Jesus died for their sins – by definition. But now it is all too common for people to use a religion as a label without really believing it without applying it to their personal actions. And that is what causes misrepresentation.

  • Anonymous

    Very good, except the Declaration of Independence is the least boring, most readable, work of prose ever written.

  • Joe Fondren

    Of course, a glaring omission would be the Ten Planks of the Communist Manifesto.  Put forth as nothing but a con-game to prey upon the uneducated and uninformed, this list has had a profound effect upon untold millions of people and should be held up as precisely what NOT to do for the attainment of peace and prosperity.

  • MDJ

    Moses most likely got the 10 commandments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead written centuries before The Decalogue.

    Book of the Dead: “I have done away sin for thee and not acted fraudulently or deceitfully. I have not belittled God. I have not inflicted pain or caused another to weep. I have not murdered or given such an order. I have not used false balances or scales. I have not purloined (held back) the offerings to the gods. I have not stolen. I have not uttered lies or curses.”

    Exodus 20:7-16: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain….Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery…Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor…”

    Thank you.

  • Lester Smith

    I plan to post of list of lists of lists to my blog.

    I think your list of lists would be on my top five list of lists of lists.

  • I’d say Santa’s naughty and nice list belongs in there somewhere

  • The Peak Oil Poet


    on 8-Fold Path

    actually, it was the 8-fold path that people could not understand – after countless requests to make it simpler (mostly from the non-military followers) he provided the rules of Śīla

    which are indeed more like the 10 commandments

    the 8-fold path does not actually have any “don’t”s in it (whereas Śīla is all “don’t”s)

    it also does not specifically tell you not to do anything – eg there’s no concept for “don’t kill” in the eightfold path – it can be inferred (right action) but if you understand the whole you realise that “don’t kill” would not make any sense at all – in fact it was partly the absence of any pure moral restrictions that attracted the warrior classes of all Buddhist nations to adopt its practice (that and the fact that the meditation practice set the almost impossible yet hard to resist task of besting yourself in a battle of will against nature)

    on 10 Commandments

    Interestingly it’s really only the first 4 of the commandments which are really noteworthy – the rest just follow as a consequence of earlier codes of law

    In particular the placement of the 4th tells you that the first 3 are what you should concentrate on – and i don’t mean meditation or reflection but some years of study

    People read the translations and just take them at what they think they mean – but they are way deeper – and way way cleverer than you’d think at first (that’s why hardly anyone can remember them)


  • Echo1951

    This was fantastic read I haven’t finished because I still need to read all the links, however I must admit it gave me insight as to what I need to do to reach some type of successful writing in these forums. Now I am going to concentrate on a list of my own. Thank you much for all the effort and information. And the declaration of Independence is not such a great read. I found this much more interesting and attention catcher.

  • Suliman Boodai

    Thank you James for your article, just to mention that the first pillar of the 5 pillars of Islam is almost reading Quran. It is envolved in the other pillers too.