The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward R. Tufte

A Review by Scott finished Sept. 10, 2009

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

It would be easy to look at the title of this book, and the subject material, and to brush it off as a dry, niche subject that would only be of interest to statistician and data graphics designers. This assumption cannot be more wrong. In the three days I spent reading Visual Display I was more entertained, fascinated, and educated than I have been by any book in some time. It was, literally, a page turner. While it may not be the very best book I've read all year, it is easily in my top 5, regardless of subject or genre.

One thought I had as I read this was that every single subject material deserves a treatment as informative, clear, and accessible as data graphics gets from Visual Display. Now, this may be because I'm no longer in school, but I would not hesitate reading a book on any subject, no matter how foreign and dull the subject material might seem, if it were presented this wonderfully. Again, I'm sure it seems ridiculous to read this considering the book is about data graphics, but it's true. From the examples of data graphics that, quite literally, saved lives (a mapping of cholera victims in London vs. the water pump they drank out of) to the horrible lies that some data graphics showed, the entire work is simply fascinating.

The sections on the actual theory were just as interesting, even if you only make small graphics for a few coworkers (or a website about books). All of the aspects of the theory that Tufte presents are clear, and applicable to any graphic that is being created. In fact, after reading this you will probably see that the graphics on this very website will change. After all, they are full of chartjunk (mostly unnecessary coloring, borders, and grids) and, in many cases, they present the same data multiple ways. Already I have ideas of how I can present more data, with less ink, and in a more informative manner. Needless to say, I was not only entertained by it, but I learned quite a bit as well.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend anyone who has ever seen or made a data graphic of any sort to pick up this book, check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend. I promise, the only boring thing about it is the title.

Favorite Quote

"Furthermore, of all the methods for analyzing and communicating statistical information, well-designed data graphics are usually the simplest and at the same time the most powerful."

Edward R. Tufte in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

First Line

"Excellence in statistical graphics consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency."

Edward R. Tufte the First Line of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Last Line

"Not the complication of the simple; rather the task of the designer is to give visual access to the subtle and the difficult - that is, the revelation of the complex."

Edward R. Tufte the Last Line of in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Originally Published Jan. 1, 2001

Hardcover edition:

191 pages - Aug. 1, 2007

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