Monday, July 07, 2014

No one is reading ‘Hard Choices,’ either

By Philip Bump July 7 at 10:45 AM, WashPost

By now, the poor sales of Hillary Clinton's new book "Hard Choices" are well-documented. (Relatively poor, we will add, given the complex topography of bookselling.)

But another metric came to our attention this weekend which allows us to loosely evaluate a more interesting bit of data: how much the book is being read.

Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, outlined what he calls the "Hawking Index" in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. The index is a way to estimate how far into books people actually get. It's named for Stephen Hawking, author of the dense "A Brief History of Time" which, swear to God, I've actually read. (In part.)

It works like this: Every time people highlight something in a book on their Kindles, Amazon records that data. Ellenberg takes the top five highlights listed at the site for any given book and correlates them to a page number. Comparing the average page number of those five highlights to the length of the book gives you a sense of how many people made it how far in. (He adds: "Disclaimer: This is not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only!" Which, fine.) The summer's most-read book? Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Least-read? Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," for which the notations only get about 2.4 percent of the way in.

(More here.)


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