Posted Friday, December 1st, 2006 at 3:38 pm under books.

## Finishing Proust

I finished reading In Search of Lost Time early last (Northern hemisphere) summer. It took me six months, reading an average of 20 to 25 pages a day. Russell took much longer, after I sneakily distracted him by buying him a beautiful 7-volume copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – which he then read, putting Proust aside, unsuspectingly letting me sail past him and into the record books. There aren’t too many books on which you can blow a 1,500 page lead and still lose by 1,000 pages.

A few hours after Russell finally finished, he sent me mail. I speculated on the number of people that had finished it since he did. In other words, how often, anywhere on earth, does someone finish Proust?

Here’s an estimated answer, with plenty of assumptions:

Assume only one person in 10,000 actually _finishes_ the whole thing.

Assume it takes an average of a year to read it all.

So you’ve got 6,000,000,000 / 10,000 = 600K people currently on earth who will read it.

Assume that people’s ages are uniformly distributed, and that everyone dies at 75.

Assume that no-one finishes the book before turning 16.

So the people who are currently 0-15 have not started the book yet. So only (75 – 15) / 75, or 80%, of the 600K (= 480K) alive who will read it, might finish in the next year.

How many will finish in the next year?

Assume that half the people who will read it have already done so. That leaves 240K who will finish it at some point in their remaining lifetime.

Finally, if we assume these people finish at uniform ages, you’ve got 240K finishers finishing over 60 years, or 4K finishers per year.

There are 365 x 24 = 8760 hours in a year, so we have one person finishing every 8760 / 4K = 2.19 hours.

• http://blogs.fluidinfo.com/terry terrycojones

Hi Alan

I assumed that 1 in 10K will finish it at some point in their life, not that are reading it now. Some of the people who will read it have of course not even heard of it yet.

You say you doubt 1 in 10K have even heard of it. I don't agree. The population of France is a bit over 60M. That's 1% of the world right there :-)

Anyway, I put all the assumptions up there so people could play with their own. There's a lot of them, so I don't claim any particular accuracy – I just found it fun to think about and to do a back of the envelope calculation on.

• alan

your calculations assume 1 in 10,000 people on the planet are reading it. That seems very inflated. I doubt 1 in 10,000 people have heard of it.

• http://blogs.fluidinfo.com/terry terrycojones

Hi Alan

I assumed that 1 in 10K will finish it at some point in their life, not that are reading it now. Some of the people who will read it have of course not even heard of it yet.

You say you doubt 1 in 10K have even heard of it. I don't agree. The population of France is a bit over 60M. That's 1% of the world right there :-)

Anyway, I put all the assumptions up there so people could play with their own. There's a lot of them, so I don't claim any particular accuracy – I just found it fun to think about and to do a back of the envelope calculation on.

• alan

your calculations assume 1 in 10,000 people on the planet are reading it. That seems very inflated. I doubt 1 in 10,000 people have heard of it.

• http://jon.es terry

Hi Cleofide

No, of course that’s not all I ended up with :-) And I did the above calculation after someone else finished it. After *I* finished it, I wept for 3 days and was in no state for mathematics.

If you find the idea of such a long book too much, you could try the Alain de Boton book “How Proust Can Save Your Life” (or very similar title). It’s good too.

• http://jon.es/ terry

Hi Cleofide

No, of course that’s not all I ended up with :-) And I did the above calculation after someone else finished it. After *I* finished it, I wept for 3 days and was in no state for mathematics.

If you find the idea of such a long book too much, you could try the Alain de Boton book “How Proust Can Save Your Life” (or very similar title). It’s good too.

• Cleofide

Well, quite an interesting post. But is that the only thing you ended up with just after you finished Marcel?

Common! You shall manage to tell us someting that would make that small 4K-reader-a-year figure increase…

Such a pity…

• Cleofide

Well, quite an interesting post. But is that the only thing you ended up with just after you finished Marcel?

Common! You shall manage to tell us someting that would make that small 4K-reader-a-year figure increase…

Such a pity…