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by Phil Stott | April 08, 2013


Did you know that Amazon keeps track of all the highlights that you make on your Kindle? And that it can count up all the individual highlights to create a list that gives us a snapshot of the things in books that people respond to; things they deem to be so important, so profound, so well-written, so beautiful, that they want to mark it, to have a record that they can revisit over and over? Well, they do. 

So what kind of things are on the list? This is probably the point where many will feel a sense of deflation: 26 of the top 50 most highlighted passages of all time (that's Amazon's styling of it anyway) are, at the time of writing, from Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy.  Without wishing to make any judgment call on the literary merits of the various exploits of Katniss Everdeen, I'd dare to venture that perhaps "most highlighted" is not the best measure of a book's overall value. 

Having said that, the list is fairly instructive in other ways—not least in the glimpse it gives us into the psychology of why someone chooses to highlight a particular piece of text. Taken as a whole, the random quotes and snippets—from works of fiction and nonfiction, across genres from fantasy to self-help—form something that approximates a collection of advice on how to live your life, a clutch of motivational desiderata from the hivemind.

Case in point: the no. 1 most-highlighted entry is as follows:

"Sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them."—Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games).

Again: while that may not be the most profound thought ever committed to paper (or an e-reader's screen), it's clearly a sentiment that appealed to the more-than 17,000 people who chose to highlight it—a thought that, perhaps, helped some to navigate challenges in their own daily lives. As such, it works just as well as advice for any situation—including work—as, say, advice doled out by the professionals (for evidence of that, check out this list of the most highlighted quotes from business texts, culled from the same source—the quality isn't really all that different).

With all that in mind, then, here are a few more pieces of useful advice to have surfaced from the top 100—proof positive that you can find inspiration or a useful life takeaway almost anywhere:

Find Your Calling

"Those three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying."—Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell – #39 on the list).

"'Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.’”—Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson, #51 on the list). 

Be Open to New Opportunities

"It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."—The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle – #19 on the list). Conan Doyle 's most famous creation sounds like he'd be right and home in the internet age—maybe he'd have gravitated towards a career in big analytics. 

Know Your Limits…

"We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction."

"It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart." –both from  Mockingjay (The Final Book of the Hunger Games)—#12 and #4 on the list, respectively.

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."—The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde –  #47 on the list).

Dealing with Workplace Issues

"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs."—Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte—#95 on the list) 

"Life in District 12 isn’t really so different from life in the arena. At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead."—Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)—#8 on the list

"When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity."—How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie—#54 on the list).

"Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion."—The 4-Hour Workweek (Timothy Ferriss, #63 on the list)


"EXPERIENCE IS what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted."—The Last Lecture (Randy Pausch--#85 on the list).


Check out Amazon's full list here.


Feel free to share your own favorite quotes—from the most-highlighted list or elsewhere—in the comments below.


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