Nobody finishes books

Friday, December 29th, 2023

Nobody finishes reading his books, Paul Bloom admits:

How often do people make it to the end of books? The mathematician Jordan Ellenberg did some number crunching, looking at the passages marked by Amazon Kindle readers and estimating what percentage of them finished. This percentage is what he calls the Hawking Index, named after Stephen Hawking’s notoriously unread book A Brief History of Time.

The Hawking Index of Hawking’s Brief History is just 6.6%.

I blame…the system. Authors are expected to write non-fiction books that are about 70,000 to 100,000 words long. Maybe this was a reasonable length in the past, but now there are too many other distractions in the world, too much TV and film and social media, and few of us have the Sitzfleisch anymore for that kind of long book.


  1. Pfriend says:

    I worry that Twitter, YouTube, etc. have reduced my attention span, because I do find many books hard to finish. Then I encounter some like Conquerors by Roger Crowley, or Commanches by T.R. Ferrenbach, and I can’t put them down. I think there is a lot of crap out there. Stick to the classics — The Magic Mountain, Moby Dick — and you can’t go wrong.

  2. Jim says:

    I quite liked Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

  3. Freddo says:

    Sturgeon’s Law “90% of everything is crap”. The older I get, the less patience I have for the 90%. And if the remaining 10% isn’t in the core interest groups it needs to be excellent to stay interesting.

  4. VXXC says:

    Oddly I finish most books, only a minority I don’t, and only a small number I put down.

    Now I may have 2-3 going at once and bounce back and forth.

  5. Bruce says:

    Years ago I bought a trade paperback of Ronald Syme’s ‘Roman Revolution’ that had been owned by Richard Hofstadter, the author of ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’. I thought I’d get a real insight into Hofstadter’s mind from what he marked up.

    He marked up every other paragraph for the first three chapters, then quit. CS Lewis said this was the mark of every book read by a scholar.

  6. McChuck says:

    You have to have a reason to read non-fiction, or it has to be uncommonly interesting and well written. Otherwise, it’s generally a slog through a poorly organized list of things that are allegedly facts, plus the usual Leftist rant of the academic author.

  7. VXXC says:

    Read older histories, McChuck, especially if the principal wrote in their own words.

    Bismarck and Metternich certainly did.

    Also, Charles Oman is very good history, especially on the Peninsular war.

    Winston Churchill could certainly write with authority on the World Wars, both of them, as he was a principal in both cases. Read Churchill with a critical eye and many lessons.

  8. Faze says:

    Morons never liked books, and they still don’t. The problem today is that more people now think that they are expected to like books, and they resent it. The morons.

  9. McChuck says:

    The author’s list of “books people never finish” is mostly full of Leftist dreck. This makes sense, because the author is a Leftist writer of complete dreck. As is the reviewer he complains about.

    People of the Right tend to write much more interesting books, because they are full of truth and hope. But the big publishers are all in London and New York City, so they don’t publish these ‘nobodies’.

  10. Jim says:

    I don’t subscribe to left-right theory, but as observed by others, when mediocre academics like Paul Bloom kvetch about their and their class’s pathetic readership metrics, it says as much about them as it does about those hopeful readers who can’t help but gag on their unreadable garbage.

  11. J. Argyle says:

    95% of books are dreck. I wish we had access to the Hawking Index, that would help filter some of it out.

    I’ve noticed that a book will hype something — myelin is important to learn a skill (The Talent Code) or mitochondria in mental illness (Brain Energy) — and these books will have a chapter or two really on this subject, but then they go into a survey of the field and lamely tie everything back to their hook, such as the mental health book saying, well meditation sometimes helps with mental illness and meditation affects mitochondria because, as we have seen, it’s in everything in the body. Perhaps length requirements are the reason why it’s padding itself out by unnecessarily surveying the field.

    I’m not opposed to surveys, but it needs to be fairly niche to keep it manageable. If it’s a broad, well-known topic, a survey is not going to be that valuable.

    A survey like this is the book Eye Color, which is all about correlations between eye color and behavior, something I didn’t know much about, but the thorough survey is only 150 pages long and manageable.

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