Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Mathematician calculates the most unread bestselling books on Amazon

rexfeatures-730031a.jpg
rexfeatures-1841220a.jpg
rexfeatures-755359a.jpg

We're all guilty of throwing ourselves headlong into a book before abandoning it halfway through when life or a better read comes calling.

And we've all got bedside tables scattered with the debris of dog-eared tomes as proof of this rather unappealing habit.

Now an American mathematician has applied a little theory to this elusive category of castaway books by working out which bestselling books most commonly go unread.

Jordan Ellenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used the highlights feature on Kindle to compile a list of the most popular e-books that people never finish.

Using a calculation he refers to as "Hawking Index" (HI) - in a nod to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, widely known as "the most unread book of all time" - he calculated how the top highlighted passages were spread through some of Amazon's most popular digital books, of all genres.

His theory rests on the estimation that when people stopped highlighting passages, they had probably stopped reading the book.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ellenberg cautioned that his approach was "not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only".

He then went onto present his round-up of popular and classic bestsellers on Amazon, with the HI percentage he had calculated for each book. The higher the HI percentage, the more of the book most people are likely to have read.

Sarah Jessica Parker holding a copy of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, one of the books most people read all the way through, according to a new hypothesis

Right at the top of the list for most unread book was the less-than-thrilling title Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.

As Prof. Ellenberg explains, "Mr. Piketty's book is almost 700 pages long, and the last of the top five popular highlights appears on page 26."

Next on the list was, predictably enough, Hawing's A Brief History Of Time , living up to its reputation fairly accurately.

Perhaps surprisingly, E.L. James' erotic hit Fifty Shades of Grey was also fairly high up on the unread list.

But coming out trumps in terms of books most people were likely to have read all the way through was Donna Tartt's enthralling thriller The Goldfinch.

Take a look at the full list of book titles and their relative HI calculations, below. And rest assured that the next time you abandon a book halfway through, you'll be in good company...

1. "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" by Thomas Piketty : 2.4%

2. "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking: 6.6%

3. "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman : 6.8%

4. "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg : 12.3%

5. "Flash Boys" by Michael Lewis : 21.7%

6. "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James: 25.9%

7. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald : 28.3%

8. "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins : 43.4%

9. "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt : 98.5%

Related

rexfeatures-3062751a.jpg

Woman advertises her services as "professional bridesmaid" on Craigslist

rexfeatures-3762050b.jpg

"None of the story is factually true" George Clooney hits back at 'irresponsible' story on his fiancée

cicerrmaiznca72eezqe.jpg

The coolest offices in the world

use.jpg

Mac launches Marge Simpson-inspired makeup line

untitled-8.jpg

The top 10 most gruesome, creepy and revolting cakes of the internet

rexfeatures-3870599ay.jpg

Sex trafficking photo series uncovers grim reality of prostitution and abuse

Comments

More

The nightmarish full trailer for The Handmaid's Tale has landed

Chilling

by Amy Swales
24 Mar 2017

Incredible quotes about mothers in literature

Tissues, at the ready...

23 Mar 2017

31 of the most uplifting lines from literature to brighten up any day

Literary pearls of wisdom for when you're despairing of the world.

by Hayley Spencer
20 Mar 2017

An eight-year-old has written a bestseller about her annoying brother

"Well, he's a little downright annoying," said Nia Mya

17 Mar 2017

Photographer depicts young girls at their most powerful

"Strength isn't always loud and feisty."

by Sarah Biddlecombe
14 Mar 2017

Bookshop makes powerful statement about the gender gap in fiction

"We’ve silenced male authors, leaving works of women in view.”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
13 Mar 2017

Five beautiful poems to read when you need a good cry

Selected by Judi Dench, Elena Ferrante, Mariella Frostrup and more

by Sarah Biddlecombe
09 Mar 2017

Exclusive: JoJo Moyes is writing a third Lou Clark book

Get ready 'Me Before You' fans...

by Sarah Biddlecombe
09 Mar 2017

Meet your new booklist: The Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction longlist

Sixteen new reads to add to your list

by Francesca Brown
08 Mar 2017

Jo Cox’s husband is writing her memoirs

Jo Cox: More in Common will be published on the eve of the first anniversary of her death.

by Moya Crockett
06 Mar 2017