The books many start but few finish: Top 'unread' bestsellers revealed

Stephen Hawking and Thomas Piketty's works feature on the list

You need a book to take on holiday but you don’t want a “summer read”, you want something that will broaden your mind.

What better time to try Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, or Capital in the Twenty-First Century?

It is a noble endeavour, but a doomed one for many people who never make it to the final page.

The two books are among the most common summer “non-reads” that are put down long before they are completed.

An American mathematician has compiled a list of abandoned books by using the highlights feature on Kindle.

Jordan Ellenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, created the Hawking Index (HI) to calculate how the top highlighted passages were spread through popular books, hypothesising that when people stopped highlighting, they had probably stopped reading.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dr Ellenberg admitted the method was “not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only” before applying it to some of the best-selling books on Amazon.

The most “unread” book came out as Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, with an HI of 2.4 per cent.

The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened Dr Ellenberg wrote: “It came out just three months ago. But the contest isn't even close.”

At almost 700 pages long, the last of the popular Kindle highlights end on page 26 – barely four per cent of the way through the book.

Hawking’s A Brief History of Time might have inspired the name of the index but came in second place with a HI of 6.6 per cent.

Other “unread” books included Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

“Apparently the reading was more slow than fast,” joked Dr Ellenberg, although in fairness the author has won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and the scientific tome is “at the forefront of cognitive psychology”.

Fifty Shades of Grey, still in the Amazon bestseller lists, came in the middle ground with an HI of 25.9 per cent.

Apparently readers liked to note the characters' favorite operas and marked handy slogans like: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership”.

On the other end of the scale The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt  looked like a book read from cover to cover, with an HI of 98.5 per cent.

All top highlights come from the last 20 pages of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ phenomenally successful Hunger Games trilogy, came in second at 43.4 per cent.

“Because sometimes things happen to people and they're not equipped to deal with them" is the most highlighted sentence in the seven-year history of Kindle, marked by 28,703 readers, according to Dr Ellenberg.

But even The Great Gatsby couldn’t keep people hooked, with an HI 0f 28.3 per cent.

No doubt Dr Ellenberg is hoping readers finish his own book - How Not To Be Wrong: The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life.

“Take it easy on yourself, readers, if you don't finish whatever edifying tome you picked out for vacation. You're far from alone,” he wrote.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea