What is Book Density?

What is Book Density?

Light Reading vs. Heavy Books

We’ve all heard of terms like “light reading” or a “heavy book”. And most people have a good idea of what that means. It’s how “dense” a book is.  

For nonfiction (the books Osmosis focuses on), we could argue it’s how many new ideas per page are presented in a book. If there’s a lot of “fluff”, (like stories, anecdotes and diagrams we could skim over)... all supporting one idea, that’s on the lighter side of reading.

On the other hand, if we’re reading say... a textbook, and every sentence is a new fact that builds on the last one… (and you would get lost if you started skimming)…  that’s heavy.

At Osmosis, we decided to take this a little further with a scale from 1 to 5. 1 being light and 5 being heavy.

We did this for two reasons. One, as you know, there are a lot of self-help and business books out there that “could’ve-been-a-blog-post” (or even a tweet-thread).

Those are books where a summary would help you avoid investing hours of reading just for a few good, useful ideas.

But there are also nonfiction books out there that are dense AF. And every page is worth its metaphorical “weight in gold”. In some cases, you can’t even summarize all the good ideas crammed into these books.

These are books that we think you should get a copy of to read yourself, or for reference... even after you’ve read our summary.

Now, if you want to geek out with me more, keep reading. I’m going to break down the rankings further. But be warned -- I’m about to go into super-taxonomical-nerd-mode...

Weighing Book Density (Super Geeky Stuff)

Let’s start with the heaviest books possible. Those we would rank a 5. These are books that are literally impossible to summarize.

They aren’t even “books” per se. They are instruction manuals, cookbooks, rulebooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias.

These are reference books where every line is important. For example, you can’t summarize a cake recipe. If you skip an ingredient or a step, you will end up baking something that’s “not a cake”. You can say the same of the rules of chess. You’re not playing chess if you don’t follow the rules.

Obviously, we would never attempt to summarize these books… but I wanted to talk about it, so we have a signpost for what I mean by a 5 -- or the densiest “density” possible.

Moving on…

Books in the 4.0 - 4.9 scale are what we can call “heavy books”. Books like...

Textbooks usually cover multiple topics in one subject area. While you can summarize the core themes of these books… it would be really difficult to include everything.

A self-help book that falls into this category is Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power”. Each of the “laws” is a topic with several historical examples. It’s a heavy book. You may not even want to read it from cover-to-cover.

A philosophy book is a core premise supported by a logical chain of sub-arguments. This can be said the same of books on politics, economics and sociology.

With these books, you can summarize the core premise in a paragraph and list out its major arguments. But you would need to strip out all the research, anecdotes, charts, tables, and color of the book.

Finally there are histories and biographies. These are detailed records of events. You can summarize the overarching themes of the story, but like every real life story, there are a lot of side characters, subplots and weird detours.

What’s more -- it’s often open to interpretation. Most historical figures are who they are because they led controversial lives.

Let’s talk about 3.0 - 3.9 books

When it comes to self-help, business, and relationship books, most of them fall inside this ranking.

3.0 - 3.9 books usually have a strong core idea backed up by 7-12 good arguments. They’re often filled with stories, anecdotes and fun, interesting research studies. They’re easy to digest. Most bestselling books land here.

Most of these books can be summarized down to their essential 10%.

That’s not to say they’re not worth reading. But if you had a good solid summary, you probably wouldn’t re-read the book and review your notes instead.

Osmosis’s goal is to summarize a good number of these 3.0 - 3.9 books for you… but more importantly, introduce you to 4.0 - 4.9 books worth reading.

But what about 2.0 - 2.9 books?

These are the “could’ve-been-a-blog-post” books. They’re books with one good idea and a lot of fluff: stories and anecdotes.

In some cases, they “could’ve-been-a-listicle”. Like seven steps to a happy marriage. Or five keys to building a business. They’re often oversimplified arguments and you might feel good about reading it… but you don’t remember much of it later.

Finally there are 1.0 books.

These are often one key lesson wrapped in a “fable”. Sometimes, they’re super deep and meaningful like Mitch Albom’s The Last Lecture. Sometimes, they’re a book that went viral but doesn’t offer a lot of useful teaching like Who Moved My Cheese? (2-word summary: change happens) or The One Minute Manager (2-word summary: Don’t micromanage).

Point is - low density books doesn’t necessarily mean a book is “bad”. Some business fable books have very important lessons. (Any of Patrick Lencioni’s books are great, IMO). They’re wrapped in an emotional story to really drive home the lesson for the reader.

That’s why we also have a metric called “Depth” at Osmosis.

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