Good graphs make complex problems clear. From the weather
forecast to the Dow Jones average, graphs are so ubiquitous today
that it is hard to imagine a world without them. Yet they are a
modern invention. This book is the first to comprehensively plot
humankind's fascinating efforts to visualize data, from a key
seventeenth-century precursor--England's plague-driven initiative
to register vital statistics--right up to the latest advances. In a
highly readable, richly illustrated story of invention and inventor
that mixes science and politics, intrigue and scandal, revolution
and shopping, Howard Wainer validates Thoreau's observation that
circumstantial evidence can be quite convincing, as when you find a
trout in the milk.
The story really begins with the eighteenth-century origins of
the art, logic, and methods of data display, which emerged,
full-grown, in William Playfair's landmark 1786 trade atlas of
England and Wales. The remarkable Scot singlehandedly popularized
the atheoretical plotting of data to reveal suggestive patterns--an
achievement that foretold the graphic explosion of the nineteenth
century, with atlases published across the observational sciences
as the language of science moved from words to pictures.
Next come succinct chapters illustrating the uses and abuses of
this marvelous invention more recently, from a murder trial in
Connecticut to the Vietnam War's effect on college admissions.
Finally Wainer examines the great twentieth-century polymath John
Wilder Tukey's vision of future graphic displays and the resultant
methods--methods poised to help us make sense of the torrent of
data in our information-laden world.
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