When Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time came out several years ago, someone hid money at the back of one copy to see if anyone got to the end of this complex work on cosmology. The book hit the best seller list and remained there for 4 years, but no one has ever admitted to discovering the money.
If the prize had been in my copy, I’d have found it. Scrupulously, I turned the pages of Hawking’s work, mostly without understanding but fascinated by the few glimmerings that penetrated my brain. I’ll never be able to talk about quantum physic intelligently, but that little book did pique my interest in the invisible world that governs the universe.
Surprisingly, Thomas Piketty’s, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is another daunting tome that has made its way to today’s New York Times best seller list. I’m not going to buy it. Plowing through 700 pages of economic theory is a lot of leaf turning. Fortunately for Piketty, many folks don’t agree. They’ve shelled out $25 for a book they’ll need stamina to finish.
On the question of which best sellers are read and which aren’t, William Falk, op-ed columnist for The Week (July 18, 2014, pg. 3), has passed along a theory devised by Jorden Ellenberg, a University of Wisconsin mathematics professor. The gentleman points out that, “In the Kindle version of each book, there is a list of the five passages most highlighted by readers.” (Ibid pg. 3). When highlights are concentrated on the first half of the book, Ellenberg concludes the second half probably went unread. If the highlights are clustered at the end of the book, he assumes the reader was bored and skipped through most of the material to get to the punch line. (Ibid pg. 3)
Ellenberg’s theory is probably as worthy as the windy reviews of critics. But, if any merit exists in it, then it doesn’t bode well either for Piketty or Donna Tartt and her bestselling novel, The Goldfinch. Kindle has issued its verdicts.
(First published 8/18/2014)