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Zinnias are the 12th-Most Beautiful Flower

Every day at our office, someone leaves giveaway items on a table in the hall. Homemade cookies, perhaps, or a book. This time, it was a copy of the magazine Black Enterprise, which calls itself the "ultimate guide to financial empowerment" for African Americans.

What caught our eye was its cover story: "10 Best Cities for African Americans. Did Yours Make the Cut?"

Ever since the FBI came up with the "ten most-wanted" fugitives in the 1950s, Americans have adored lists. And because compilations of the top ten this, or top 100 that, sell magazines and newspapers, every issue seems to have one.

These are not just measurable rankings of, say, executive salaries or best-selling books, though Americans can't wait to read those, too. More than facts and figures, most of the lists we love are the product of some editor's judgment. U.S. News and World Report's annual ratings of American colleges, and Time magazine's rankings of movies, TV shows, and Web sites are good examples.

Each year, a whole book comes out that rates 350 places to live in America. This year, after assessing nine categories of livability (including climate, crime, and ambience), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was ranked the "most livable" city in the land.

Other lists -- like the ten worst-dressed women, or the all-time best rock-'n'-roll songs about cars, or the top 25 restaurants serving Chinese dim sum dumplings -- are more esoteric.

In the United States -- this year, at least -- in the opinion of Black Enterprise, the Washington, D.C., area is the best place for African Americans. To find out why, you'll have to read the magazine -- which is the whole idea.