What Do Lolita and Freakonomics Have in Common?

A Cal Tech grad student put together a list of the most popular books across college campuses and then correlated those book choices with S.A.T. scores at those schools. His results reveal that the five books with the highest average S.A.T. scores are Lolita, 100 Years of Solitude, Crime and Punishment, Freakonomics, and Atlas Shrugged.

Among those five books, I have to admit that Lolita and Freakonomics are the only two I have read from beginning to end. I started the other three but didn’t manage to finish reading any of them.

The lowest five books in terms of S.A.T. scores are Zane (who is an author, not a book), The Color Purple, Fahrenheit 451, The Outsiders, and Addicted. The Holy Bible almost makes this category.

So which way is the causality running here? Does reading Crime and Punishment make you smart or do smart people read Crime and Punishment?

Unfortunately, I fear that it is the latter. Otherwise, can you imagine how many copies of Freakonomics we could sell? Every teenager needing a little S.A.T. score boost would make a trip to the bookstore and see that Freakonomics is 207 pages long and Crime and Punishment is over 700 pages. The choice would be easy.

Keith Weintraub

People who read Atlas shrugged are stupid. The Fountainhead is the same book (look at the initials of the main characters in each book e.g. Howard Roark vs Henry Reardon) but much shorter.


You must blog this.


That is all.


Obviously the main determinant here is that, for many people, their favorite books are the ones that they read in high school - since they don't read much otherwise. And, other than Crime and Punishment (a book that you would only read in AP Lit), none of the books at the top are ones that you would read in school. Since people that would read outside of school are generally smarter/more intellectual/richer/etc., it is not surprising that their SAT scores are higher.

David Oliver

Maybe SAT high scorers like books written by authors born in St Petersurg, Russia - Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Or maybe Russian-born writers and those who are influenced by them - Gabriel García Marquez. But what of the authors of Freakonomics?

I was mad for Russian writers back in the day and did pretty well on my SAT. My best friend's favorite book was The Brothers Karamazov and he had a perfect score. Correlation or causation?


I particularly like the graph makes it look like kids with over 1350 don't read anything.


er, or kids who go to top schools tend to LIE about their favorite books to make themselves look impressive...i mean, however many people have read crime and punishment, i simply do not believe that it is truly the "favorite book" of enough people to reach any "top favorites" list.


Atlas Shrugged being on that list made me laugh pretty hard. Kids may be smart enough to do well on the SAT but what a difference experience makes.


As an MSC student who just cant find the time to get around to reading Freakonomics despite a desire to, maybe reading it will boost my ability to cope with the workload.

The Darkness

And what experience is that J? Our wonderful welfare state?


Keep in mind that Ayn Rand thought Libertarians were idiots.


The kind of experience that also keeps you from calling yourself "The Darkness" in public. (I'm just kidding you; the cheap shot was so obvious that I just had to take it.)


Apparently, you'd be better off not reading ("I Don't Read") than reading Fahrenheit 451 or The Color Purple.

Pup, MD

The people I knew in college that read Atlas Shrugged and actually enjoyed it were typically the dumbest 'smart people' around. It's the literary equivalent of "Spot Goes to the Capitalist Saviours."

Also interesting to mention is that the "Holy Bible" is correlated with being dumb, but just the "Bible" is decidedly middle of the pack, which may be the most revealing piece of information this correlation has to offer.


what's the difference between The Holy Bible and The Bible? They're both on the chart. Sounds to me like you were just trolling Mr. Levitt.


--So which way is the causality running here? Does reading Crime and Punishment make you smart or do smart people read Crime and Punishment?

Maybe the answer is neither. I suspect many claim a book as a favorite, not because they read it and liked it, but because that book is a social indicator of something -- like being smart or a philosophically appealing, etc.


I agree with J. The purity of Rand's ideas are really appealing to very intelligent people of a certain age (a very angry and impetuous age). Definitely a badge of "counter-cultural intellectualism" for about the first two months of your freshman year at college before you realize that EVERYBODY who wants to look smart has a copy on their book-shelf.

For the right-wingers, it's a kind of manifesto.

For those leaning left, it's a great jumping-off point for a critique of capitalism's most well-known voices.

And for sophomores, it's really long and was authored by a complete nut-job.


J is probably means that those who read Atlas Shrugged are subscribing to the belief that the power of individual is supreme, if it wasn't only for other, less capable people.

In my experience, these Randroids generally are those people who believe they have great things ahead of them, but everyone else is simply too stupid to pay attention to them - "If only..." and "One day, I'll..." are usually how they begin their sentences.

The Light

Darkness - J is probably referring to the experience that comes with living life, cooperating with others, and agreeing on mutually beneficial compromise. There is a reason Atlas Shrugged is popular among naive, idealistic teenagers. It's because it's a naive, unrealistic book.


I wonder how the list of most popular books was developed. If it was based on sales at the campus book store, it could reflect choices by teachers for reading lists as opposed to student preference. Or if it was a survey of students, there may have been some skewing of choices by respondents in the better schools for more "high brow" books to look better in the survey. I mean who doesn't want people to know that you read Freakonomics?


I've often been amazed at the opposite: how many highly intelligent people have zero familiarity with literary classics.

I once had a friend who had just graduated from Notre Dame, and is now a med student at Dartmouth. When looking for something to read, she borrowed my copy of Lolita. And made it maybe 30 pages in before turning to me and saying, "Oh my God! Do you know what this book is ABOUT?"