Why haven’t you read The Way of Kings (a musing on Goodreads data for predictive power)

See original post and follow up discussion on /r/slatestarcodex here

I read a lot.

While I enjoy most of the books I read, I primarily read for the 5 star books; the books that I can’t put down; the books that change how I see the world. These are what make reading so special for me.

On average, about 1/10 books I read merit 5 stars. Due to how much I value 5 star books, I spend a lot of time trying to research what books I’m likely to rate as 5 stars. I find Goodreads incredibly valuable for this.

When I think of my 10 favourite reads over the last 5 years, here are their Goodreads stats:

  • The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk 4.3/5 5,395 ratings (published in 1990)
  • From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 by Lee Kuan Yew 4.4/5 2,264 ratings (published in 2000)
  • The Brothers Ashkenazi by Israel J. Singer 4.3/5 831 ratings (first published in 1936)
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro 4.51/5 10,957 ratings (published in 1974)
  • The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro 4.45/5 14,955 ratings (published in 1982)
  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin 4.41/5 7,823 ratings (published in 1991)
  • The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich 4.41/5 596 ratings (published in 2015)
  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing 4.40/5 72,594 Ratings (published in 1959)
  • Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage 4.35/5 1,335 ratings (published in 1983)
  • The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole by Roland Huntford 4.31/5 2,626 ratings (published in 1979)

All of these books have Goodreads ratings above 4.3 (most with above 4.4). Most have thousands of ratings. Most are more than 25 years old.

When I compare these metrics to the 100s of books I’ve given 2 and 3 stars to, the data is totally different. Most of those books are far more recent (most coming out in the proceeding few years), have goodreads ratings between 3.9-4.2 and many have less than 1000 reviews.

I raise this point to emphasize that by looking at the Goodreads data, I am in a far better position to forecast which books I’m likely to love. Books with above a 4.3 rating, 1000s of reviews and more than 10 years are old are highly likely to end up as 5 stars books (or atleast 4 star books, which are great too).

A quick story: my brother rarely reads. He aspires to reads and wants to, he just doesn’t actually have the desire to start books. Knowing this, I offered my brother a proposition: if he could read 25 pages of The Martian by Andy Weir without finishing the rest of the book, I’d give him $20. If he finished, he owed me $20.

Why was I so confident that my brother, who hadn’t read a book in over 5 years, would love The Martian (a book I never read)? Simple, because the Goodreads data was so good. As of today, The Martian rates 4.40/5 with 723,847 ratings. My brother ended up finishing the book in two days and was happy to pay me.

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson has a 4.65/5 with 251,239 ratings and 73% of readers giving it 5 stars. The second book in the series is even better rated with 4.76/5 from 173,166 ratings.

Unless someone cannot stand fantasy books, they are almost certainly going to love The Way of Kings. The Goodreads data is too predictive not to. Which leads to the question, if you love reading 5 star books, why are you not reading The Way of Kings?

The point of this thread is not to actually convince anyone to read The Way of Kings but to highlight the value of Goodreads data as a tool for predicting which books one may love.

If you value reading great books, I recommend you read more books rated 4.3+ with thousands of reviews and are more than 10 years old.