Judging books by their underlying sentiment

Posted on 2 min.

We used Zurvey to learn more about our favorite books. Automated text analysis helped us see these classics in a whole new light.

1. Happy endings and sad beginnings

Books tend to start off on a rather negative note. We looked at over 50 famous first lines, and 49% of them were negative, and only 18.4% had a positive tone overall. But if you stick with it, the endings are mostly happy, with only 24.5% of the examined last lines getting an unfavorable negative score!

2. Smiles over hair

Characters are the essence of a piece of prose, and the way they are described for the first time can tell the readers a lot about who they are. Hair is a favorite among authors, it was mentioned 16 times, within 34 character descriptions. Surprisingly, our analysis shows that in the books we looked at, there were rather negative associations with a character’s locks. For example, Mark Twain portrays Pap like this in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: “His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. Smiles are also popular among writers. Zurvey found that smiles were the most positive entity within character descriptions. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s smile is described like this: “It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

3. The most emotional decade

1970 saw the most emotional bestseller titles, such as “War and Remembrance” and “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”. No all of them were negative though! Erich Segal’s book, “Love Story” was published on Valentine’s Day, in 1970. We wonder what was going on at that time, that awakened the sensibilities of writers across the globe.

4. Conflict everywhere

We wanted to know where does conflict most often rear its ugly head. Zurvey is able to find the relationships between mentions, so we could see that in recent books, conflict happens over migration, modernization, and within families. Of course family drama is an all time favorite, but migration is a topic that came into the limelight in recent years.


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Péter Szekeres

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