People may be buying The Goldfinch and The Hunger Games in droves, but how many actually finish these books? How far do readers get? According to mathematician Jordan Ellenberg, his Hawking Index will let you know!
In an essay for the Wall Street Journal, Ellenberg writes about how he devised this index based on Amazon's "Popular Highlights" feature:
Every book's Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.
Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book's five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we're guessing most people are likely to have read. (Disclaimer: This is not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only!)
That last line is the best part.
The standard bearer is Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which is known as the most unread bestseller, and which lends its name to this Ellenberg's "unscientific" yet illuminating system.
So using the highlights method, where do current bestsellers fall on this index? The Wall Street Journal determined that people get through 98.5% of Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize winner (how literary of them), people get through on average almost half of Catching Fire, mainly because of the romance near the end, and hilariously, people lean into (sorry) only 12.3% of Lean In.
The Daily Mail also has this complete and handy chart:
When we tried to reach Sheryl Sandberg for comment on how she feels about this, she gave us this answer:
THE REUTERS PHOTO FROM SHERYL SANDBERG’S NON-APOLOGY PRESS EVENT IS LITERALLY ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. pic.twitter.com/YuGKBDe5xG
— Robinson Meyer (@yayitsrob) July 2, 2014