The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

A few years ago I asked one of my friends, a retired economist, to tell me about her favorite professor from college. She hesitated for a moment before naming Edward Tufte. I had never heard of the man, but I immediately ordered his most well-known book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

On opening the book for the first time, it is hard not to be mesmerized by the graphs. Each page is a new idea for how you can make complex data sets accessible and instantly revealing. If the D3 graph gallery is your idea of pornography, you will love Tufte instantly.

But don’t make the mistake of that lost generation of American adolescents who only cracked open Playboy for the pictures; this book is also a wonk’s own version of The Elements of Style, full of useful pointers like this one for the modern digirati:

Allowing artist-illustrators to control the design and content of statistical graphics is almost like allowing typographers to control the content, style, and editing of prose.

— Edward Tufte

Although it is true that web design teams have taken an outsized role in leading quantitative story-telling, Tufte’s larger point is that we must all become data-literate. This is just the book to get you there.