Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Mathematician calculates the most unread bestselling books on Amazon


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%



Woman advertises her services as "professional bridesmaid" on Craigslist


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


The coolest offices in the world


Mac launches Marge Simpson-inspired makeup line


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


Sex trafficking photo series uncovers grim reality of prostitution and abuse



Harry Potter fans, there's a Roald Dahl collaboration in the works

Are you ready for a magical Willy Wonka prequel?

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Oct 2016

Sarah Jessica Parker is launching a new line of fiction books

She’s channelling her inner Carrie Bradshaw…

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Oct 2016

New Ladybird books for grown-ups are all our work woes

Old pics, new problems

by Anna Pollitt
18 Oct 2016

These are the UK’s favourite pearls of Winnie-the-Pooh wisdom

He’s far more than a bear of very little brain, you know.

by Moya Crockett
14 Oct 2016

Bridget Jones's author on life, love and the importance of friendship

“No one can have it all”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
12 Oct 2016

There's now going to be a Good Sex in Fiction award

“We have laughed enough”

by Amy Swales
12 Oct 2016

Meet the winner of Stylist’s gothic short story competition

The big short

by The Stylist web team
10 Oct 2016

9 important life lessons from cult feminist Instagram poet Rupi Kaur

Happy National Poetry Day.

by Moya Crockett
06 Oct 2016

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz to star in adaptation of Disobedience

They will bring Naomi Alderman’s debut novel to life on the silver screen

by Kayleigh Dray
05 Oct 2016

Watch eerie trailer for Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events

We’re sorry to say that the trailer you’re about to watch is extremely unpleasant…

by Kayleigh Dray
05 Oct 2016