You can pretend you understand every reference in this Mark Leibovich interview, but you know you’re faking it.
One year ago, Mark Leibovich’s anti-Washington bestseller “This Town” inspired a riot in, well, This Town.
But did anyone actually finish it?
We can’t know — but we can guess.
In a Wall Street Journal essay, Jordan Ellenberg identified a totally unscientific way to determine whether people are actually reading popular bestsellers. It’s inspired by Stephen Hawking’s pop-science tome “A Brief History of Time,” which Ellenberg calls “the most unread book of all time”:
How can we find today’s greatest non-reads? Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature provides one quick and dirty measure. 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.
“This Town” doesn’t do so well according to this metric. Its HI: 40.1 percent.
That’s better than some hit books. “Lean In” inspired miles of column inches — and a sequel of sorts — but its HI is just 12.3 percent, according to Ellenberg. And Thomas Piketty’s much blabbed about “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has a miserable HI: 2.4 percent.
Still, compared with books that people actually read after buying — say, Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” which Ellenberg said had an HI of 98.5 percent — Leibovich work isn’t looking so good.
(Disclosure: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)