About 2 million books get published every year in the world. The indexed web contains at least 5.75 billion pages. So much to read, so little time. In a world obsessed with speed and productivity at all costs, it’s no surprise that someone came up with a solution. It’s called speed reading, and its promise is to help anyone read at speeds of above 1000 words per minute—much higher than the 200-400 words per minute achieved by the average college-level reader. Sounds fantastic. The problem? It’s completely bogus.
Many speed reading programs sell the dream of being able to read much faster with full comprehension. The first one, called Reading Dynamics, was launched by Evelyn Wood in 1959. A researcher and schoolteacher, Wood created and marketed a system said to increase a reader’s speed by a factor of three to ten times or more, while preserving—and even improving—comprehension. The business was a success: it eventually had 150 outlets in the United States, 30 in Canada, and many others worldwide. Today, many apps are built on the same promise.