Hawking Index

A Brief History of Time

The Hawking Index (HI) is a mock mathematical measure of how far people will read through a book before giving up. The index is named after physicist Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time,’ which was dubbed ‘the most unread book of all time.’ It was invented by American mathematician Jordan Ellenberg, who created it in a blog for the ‘Wall Street Journal’ in 2014.

Ellenberg relied on data from Kindle users for his model. ‘A Brief History of Time’ scored 6.6% on the HI, meaning Ellenberg estimated that only 6.6% of readers finished the book.

Ellenberg’s method of calculating the index draws on the ‘popular highlights,’ the five most highlighted passages marked by Amazon Kindle readers of each title. A wide spread of highlights throughout the work means that most readers will have read the entire book, resulting in a high on the index. If the spread of highlights occurs only at the beginning of the book, then it means that fewer people will have read the book completely and it will thus score low on the index. When the index was created, this information was easier to access, as ‘popular highlights’ were available to everyone, but since then this information has only been made available to people who buy the books on Kindle.

The book with the lowest HI score was ‘Hard Choices’ by Hillary Clinton at 1.9%. ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by Thomas Piketty, which was called ‘one of the watershed books in economic thinking’ by Branko Milanović, former senior economist at the World Bank, is the second lowest at 2.4%. Other books Ellenberg tested include ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace (6.4%), ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg (12.3%), ‘Fifty Shades of Grey (25.9%), ‘The Great Gatsby’ (28.3%), ‘Catching Fire’ by ‘Hunger Games’ novelist Suzanne Collins (43.4%), and ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt (98.5%), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013.

One Comment to “Hawking Index”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.