Nathan Tanner

Why (almost) no one reads nonfiction anymore

A few weeks back I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed and was struck by this comment from a former colleague:

These days many blame our lack of desire to read books on our supposed growing attention deficit disorder as a society. But what I personally find archaic about especially non-fiction books is their forced stereotypical length. Many topics could be sufficiently covered in far fewer pages, but that wouldn’t meet our previous expectations of what a proper length of a book was. To me the medium itself is dated, not our attention spans.

I could not agree more. I read a lot of nonfiction, and I love talking about books with friends and co-workers. But in these conversations, I find that many of them read very little (if any) nonfiction books.

Sure, the demands on our time have never been greater. And with our mobile devices we are always a push notification away from the next distraction. But the real problem with nonfiction, at least in my opinion, is that most many books just don’t need to be 300+ pages.

I regularly find myself loving a book after the first 20-30 pages, then running out of steam in the second half. I’ve found that many nonfiction books consist of filler. It’s the same message restated and regurgitated in ways that lack creativity and engagement. What’s wrong with publishing a good 100-page book? Or a 50-page book?

As my colleague Dan said, “If the goal is to optimize for learning efficiency, reading the whole book is almost never the right answer.”

I think he’s right. But if a book isn’t worth finishing, is it even worth buying?

And that’s why no one reads nonfiction anymore.