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The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte is a fairly peculiar book. Let’s start with what it’s not:

  • It’s not a book cataloguing different types of graphs and charts.
  • It’s not a book providing comprehensive coverage of any particular subject.
  • It’s not a book explaining the principles behind graphs and charts.
  • It’s not a book on statistics.
  • It’s not in any way technical.

So what is it then?

The best way I can describe it is as a printed museum of graphs and charts. It includes examples of historically important graphs, along with some specimens that are interesting for their design rather than what they convey. Unlike a museum, though, it also includes a fair number of bad examples, along with critical commentary and improved redesigns. The book is especially critical of the recent trend of designing graphs to look pretty rather than to convey information, and showcases some particularly deceptive graphs where the decoration leads to the graph showing an opposite trend to the data.

I probably didn’t directly learn very much from having read the book. That doesn’t detract from its value, however. The content was certainly interesting, and as a work of art it is highly impressive. Most of all, though, I strongly suspect that it will serve as inspiration for various things later on.

If you’re just looking to learn, this isn’t the book to get. But if you don’t need to know something specific, your mind will be better off for having read it.

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