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Stephen Hawking and a Brief History of Not Finishing Books

April 3, 2018

Stephen Hawking died recently, and sales of his book A Brief History of Time have skyrocketed.  Stephen Hawking is a science guy, and I’m not, so I don’t write about him much.  But I’m a book nerd, and there’s one aspect of Stephen Hawking’s book that the average Hawking fan might not know about.

A Brief History of Time might be one of the most unread bestselling books out there.

It’s not me saying that.  It’s The Hawking Index , which was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time, a book that a lot of people buy but very few really read.  The Hawking Index (or the professor who figured it out) measures highlighted text in the Amazon Kindle and how far into the book that the last highlighted text is. Then it matches the number of highlighted text with the page numbers and… I’m going to stop there. If I go into more details, you might stop reading. I don’t want people to stop reading my article about people who stop reading A Brief History of Time.

I never bought A Brief History of Time. I like history, and I like brief books, but I remember scanning the first couple pages years ago and thinking, “This is really boring (or too smart for me).” I don’t care how short the book is; if it’s boring (or too smart for me), I don’t buy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get included in the Hawking Index because I didn’t even buy the book that inspired the index of books that people don’t finish. Too bad there’s no way to track people who didn’t even buy the book before not finishing it.

It’s not really an insult to mention The Hawking Index so soon after Stephen Hawking’s death.  It’s not an insult at all!   Millions of people bought Hawking’s books.  That’s awesome!!  If millions of people bought my books and didn’t read them, I’d just be glad they bought my books.  I’d rather have millions of people buy my books and not finish them then have very few people buy my books.

As an avid book reader, I proudly admit that I don’t finish most books that I start.  Life is short, books take a while to read, so I want to enjoy everything I peruse.  I check out lots of books from the library, and I read samples from the Amazon Kindle, so it doesn’t cost anything to not finish a book, except a little time.  I feel burned when I buy a book and don’t finish it.  That happens when a book starts off great, reels me in, and then sucker punches me with a plummet in quality after I purchase it.  I hate that!!

When The Hawking Index was first revealed a few years ago, it didn’t make much news.  Data collection wasn’t seen as a big deal back then.  People knew about it but shrugged it off.  It was just seen as the price we paid for free apps and convenience.  Now people are starting to freak out over data collection, when they previously hadn’t cared.  If people are reminded how their reading habits can be tracked through Amazon, will they care more now than they did four years ago?

Maybe readers will suddenly find this index intrusive.  This could be a great reason to read a real book, instead of the digital version.  If you buy a book and never read it, nobody would know.  I mean, maybe there are enough hidden government cameras to track all of our reading habits, but that would take a lot of surveillance (and a lot of FISA warrants… if those even matter anymore).

Whenever a celebrity passes, fans grieve in different ways.  Some will write tributes on blogs and Twitter.  Fans of singers will listen to songs, and fans of actors will watch movies.  In the case of Stephen Hawking, a lot of people bought his book A Brief History of Time.  Yeah, a lot of people bought it, but that doesn’t mean many people will read it.

From → Pop culture

  1. I’m one of the many who bought it and never read finished it. It’s just not an engaging read. I don’t highlight books though, and this was before ereaders, so I’m sharing my data the old fashioned way.

    • “…and this was before ereaders, so I’m sharing my data the old fashioned way.”-

      If there’s anybody collecting data by reading blogs, they can add the two of us to their calculations of people who didn’t finish reading A Brief History of Time.

  2. Interesting. Hawking was an engaging guy as a speaker but I never read his book although my husband bought it. (Not sure if he read it to the finish or not.)

  3. Some years ago, I actually made a pact with a girl friend (girl friend with a “space”, not girlfriend) of mine to read the Brief History of Time to the end. If I remember correctly, she was given a copy by her then-boyfriend (no space) who, I think, told her he’ll marry her when she reads it. So, I think, she convinced me to read it with her.
    Long story short, I finished the book, she didn’t, and ended up marrying someone else. And no, not me. And no, I didn’t marry her boyfriend either.

    • Ha! Great story!

      Did she not finish the book because she didn’t want to get married to the guy, or did they not get married because she didn’t finish the book?

      • I think she didn’t finish it for the same reason why most people don’t finish it, though, I think, having a partner in suffering (that is, in reading BHOT) makes it easier.
        As for why she didn’t marry the guy, i don’t even remember why, but it probably wasn’t Hawking’s fault.

  4. I just borrowed this book from the library, and contrary to a Twitter claim that most people only read to page 10, I finished it.

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