What is the summer’s most read and most unread bestseller?

You can get a good sense of this by seeing the distribution of “most marked” Kindle passages within the book itself.  For the winner, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, “all five top highlights come from the final 20 pages.”  That suggests many readers actually finished the book (as did I, though I found it forgettable).  So that wins the prize as the most read bestseller this year, although it does not seem every single bestseller was sampled.  Not so well read are Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and coming in last (first?) overall is a book which has been covered rather frequently on MR as of late, can you guess the name?, 700 pp. or so and “the last of the top five popular highlights appears on page 26.”

The full article, by Jordan Ellenberg, is here.


Kindle readers have not highlighted past page 26, so obviously Piketty is a failure, his data is unreliable, he's ideologically married to his priors, his book is poorly written, and his wife is ugly.

One of those claims is true, namely "he’s ideologically married to his priors". The rest are false.

A vaguely remembered and quite cynical citation, likely from Heinlein, runs along the line that when two soothsayers pass each in a marketplace, they smile at each other in friendly recognition, as fellow professionals.

Good line, but wide of the mark here. Allow me:

1. Formidable troll (note: as you remind us, most trolls are less formidable) baits Tyler.

2. Tyler responds with a clean kill. Tricky skill- like a comedian taking down a heckler.

So do you disagree with the critics attacking Piketty's data?

As McArdle said, it's hard to have a whole lot of data without any errors at all.

Depending on how it is collected, the data could all be rubbish. And a small amount of filthy data can contaminate an otherwise pristine source.

Tyler has much better evidence that Piketty's wrong--just look at how great rich upper class people were at making art in the 19th century!

And his priors are ugly. Therefore, two of those claims are true.

Unlike you, of course.

Can I have some fries with that side of weak sauce?

That's it- I retract 'formidable'. Don't get mad at me- you did this to yourself.

Is the beauty of his wife even a truth apt proposition?

Piketty's prose style is remarkably grating, especially when compared to that of rival heterodox economist Ha-Joon Chang's J.K. Galbraithisms:


100 words spilled on Piketty for every word devoted to Kahneman. Dumb planet.

It's because nobody bothered to frame Kahneman in the terms of the Democrat vs Republican fight.

Kahneman's book should be required reading for students, and for all citizens during an election campaign.

The author of the article even makes the claim that this list should be called the Picketty Index!

Question for Tyler. I have read more reviews of the book from "notable" economists than almost any other book (i have not book it myself). There has been a flurry of reviews hitting the blogosphere. How many of these reviews have come from people who also have not actually read the book? Is it greater or less than 50%?

This may explain why Scott Sumner's reviews have been highlighting so many details that other reviewers seem to have missed.

It is not Piketty´s comments on the US economy that is the reason for the attention to his book , it is not new and there are better and more accurate data from other sources on the increasing inequality of both incomes and wealth in the US. What has generated so many negative post by economist is what his book implies about the effect of government policy over the last 30+ years, that is cutting taxes on capital income ( increasing after tax r) is part the reason for the increasing inequality. The policy was suppose to increase saving and investment and so also increase g leaving K/Y unchanged, but the savings rate fell so ended up with both slow grow and increased inequality

If Kindle's only way of tracking how their books are read is by counting highlights, they have truly failed. They have an opportunity to gather enormous amounts of data (hopefully anonymous) about people's reading habits, like what Netflix does with how people use it.

Amazon can certainly get better data about reading habits out of the Kindle (and almost certainly not anonymized). This is just the only slice of that data that they publish.

They have claimed to have knowledge down to the level of how much time each page was displayed in each book, which implies they know almost everything.

I'd like to have more of that data, at least on myself. I could see at what time I actually fell asleep with the kindle on last night.

I've always found the notion of "Summer Reading" a weird concept. Do people really change their reading habits based on the season or is this an old marketing gimmick? I honestly can't say I've ever noticed any difference in what I'm reading just because it happens to be hot and sunny outside.

So true. Never met someone who reads Dostoievsky and Updike 9 months a year and then switch to Grisham during the summer.

I actually change my reading seasonally. During sessions I tend to read stuff in my field and genre fiction, when I am working away from home or in the field, I read literary stuff or classics, and on vacation I read history. I know plenty of non academics who read "serious books" as a sort of chore and then read the genre stuff they like on vacation.

I always thought it was simply referring to the time when people have more time to read due to vacations.

Of course there's seasonal variation in reading preferences. Nearly all aspects of everyday life vary seasonally: the rest of cultural consumption, daily routines, food choices, aesthetic choices, you name it. Why would reading be different?

Everything is lighter amid blossoms. The elderly destitute war veteran is getting ready to attend a funeral, and there's his gravely ill wife, and their dead son, and his inheritance in the form of a fighting rooster they can't afford to feed, and – wouldn't you rather leave that for a November afternoon designed for melancholy? There are stories to be read about the Beatles' road to expertise via 1,200 gigs in Hamburg, and the role of given names in life accomplishments, and puffins, all more suitable for a sunlit outdoor café or a beach.

You had me at fighting rooster.

The comments on this blogs are good reading. I have a longstanding interest in spoken or written comments on books. Great and useful comments can come from those who have read the book in question and from those who haven't.

I too like to read stuff

MR attracts unusually intelligent readership...

And apparently pretty self-congratulatory too.

I don't read long economics books.

Is there any benefit to skipping to the end and reading that last 50 pages if you've figured out you're not going to read the whole thing and you've already bought the book, like there might be for a long fiction book?

Piketty's book is a lot of fun to read via its index: e.g., look up "immigration," or "Slim, Carlos."

Impressive! Bonus points for difficulty on this one, Steve!

I am one of those who bought Kahnemann (I love his paper with Amos Tversky on Heuristics and Biases) but left it around page 25. The field of behavioural psychology is tainted due to falsifications by D Stapel and others - and Kahnemann quotes any of these papers, sadly. I do not know hence of much of these research is credible.

I suspect I'm one of the few to have read all of Thinking Fast and Slow, which may be why I was less impressed by it than everybody else.

Eh... maybe you just didn't get it. Or there wasn't enough about immigration.

It's not particularly hard for non-economists and/or non-Aspies to get that you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time:


War and Peace is about Russia. Meh.

Maybe your thinking is just too Fast

It should be noted that Ellenberg's new book is a good read for the general public. A Freakonomics in math.

I have to admit that I'm still grinding my way through Piketty. Part of my slow progress is that I'm reading other, more enjoyable books concurrently, part is all the secondary source reading on Piketty I've done, and part is that I've already drawn a few major conclusions about it. However, it is a very good book, and people should really consider reading it. You can learn a lot from books you grind through and disagree with in some ways. I slogged my way through "The Bell Curve", and whatever else I thought about it, it did get to me really consider costs and intrusiveness of social aid programs for the first time, as well as complexity. It had no effect on my wanting to aid the poor and indigent.

Hmm, I made it all the way through Kahneman with interest, but have no desire towards Piketty. Why read the book when I can see the movie, read the blog and subscribe to the newsletter? I am not sure what that says about me or my priors, but I do have an objectively attractive wife.

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