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Please be aware Please be aware that this book is exactly the same as The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia. Do not buy both, or you’ll end up returning one of the two, as I’m going to do now.
Approach with skepticism… I’m fortunate to have attended Edward Tufte’s great lecture on the visual presentation of statistical information, and so I approach any chart as a skeptic.First off, this IS the same book as – you don’t need to buy both.The positive:Elegantly designed, beautifully presented graphics, satisfies Tufte’s first rule: “have a compelling story to tell with your data” (bad paraphrase, I’m sure). My book has NONE of the defects other reviewers describe (ink splats in EU version, no labels on some charts in US version).The negative:any reader who spends a little time with a ruler and a calculator analyzing the “Billion Dollar-o-gram” (p. 10) will wonder how many of the other charts in the book are fabrications. Seriously. $300 Billion isn’t anything like 4.5 x $97 Billion, yet that’s what the comparative areas in this chart suggest. What kills me is that the chart would’ve been just as interesting and MORE compelling if it was accurate. There’s off-the-shelf treemap software that will generate such a diagram automatically AND accurately.I had my questions about the validity of some of the charts my first time through, but other Amazon reviewers’ questioning of their accuracy in made me look for myself.I have no way to check some of the other charts (which occasionally lapse into what Tufte calls “chart-junk”) – as they’re irregular figures, and difficult to compare by area. Suffice it to say that the accuracy problems with the billion-dollar-o-gram place the rest of the charts in the book under a cloud of suspicion as well.When you present data, you’re putting your own reputation on the line. You MUST present data accurately, if you’re going to present your data as truth.
Translating Numbers I like the title `Information is Beautiful’best because it says clearly what I love about this book. McCandless has transformed information in the form of number data into beautiful graphics. The information can become instantly more powerful by many orders. (I say can because not all the graphics are equally powerful).There is a wonderful almost recursive aspect to this work- the world we perceive is shaped by `invisible’ streams of stuff that can be converted to data and analysed. The abstractive power of numerical analysis allows us to discover lots of exciting new information about the world, but for so many people in the world, numbers and even graphs are a foreign language. Even for those of us who can `speak’ numbers will not (cannot!) always put in the effort to work through every set of numbers we come across.What McCandless has succeeded in doing is taking some of the analysis that has gone on (and one can quibble with that analysis behind some graphics, but that is not really the point) and translating it back into the way we like to perceive the world – visually – so that we instantly see the abstractive power of that analysis, most of it really engagingly set out in colors and forms that are clear and bright.An example of this power is the graphic called `Life Times; how will you spend your 77.8 years?’.(See user images) I was already really familiar with the statistics of the time the average person spends watching television but when I SAW the relative size of that circle, I stopped watching television that same day and have hardly watched since.The choice of information that this book works through also functions as a fascinating insight into the author working to make sense of the world he lives in.The cases where the graphics do not work very well are where the information has not been truly `translated’ from numbers to visuals; rather picture icons have been stuck onto standard graphs.
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