The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte is quite possibly the most boring sounding book title for this most interesting book. Perhaps something along the lines of "A picture is worth a thousand words" would be better, but that's just not a geeky enough title, is it?
Perhaps the boring-sounding title was the reason that the author couldn't get it off the ground before getting a second mortgage on his house to finance self-publishing the first printing. (I guess you could say it was a success, as it has now had over 17 printings.)
True to its name, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information drills in to the science and psychology behind all manner of quantitative graphics — the sort of things you see alongside newspaper articles to illustrate, say, the trend of oil prices in recent years.
This book drills down into the details that make a good graphic, and also displays a large variety of innovative and information-dense graphics. For example, the image on the cover is actually a visualisation of a train schedule, with time on the horizontal axis and stations represented on the vertical. Each of the oblique red lines represents the locus of scheduled times and stations for a specific train.
The information in this graphic is equivalent to a hefty booklet of train times, yet it is elegantly displayed in a single image. If I were wanting to catch a specific train I'd probably prefer to have the train times booklet, with precise time values written out explicitly, however if I wanted to get a holistic impression of the entire train schedule this graphic is far superior. For instance, the relative speed of trains is demonstrated by the angle of its red line — faster trains have steeper lines. Trains with long stop-overs have discontinuities. Some trains don't go all the way to the end of the line.
This image is actually simplified for the cover art, but the original also has labels for each of the stations and the hours of the day, so you can extract even more information from it.
Other examples of awesome visual displays of quantitative information I have come across recently:
Hans Rosling co-founded the company which produced the Gap Minder
software, shown below, which mines international statistics and turns them
into rich and dynamic visual displays that help you visualise global trends.
I highly recommend the videos from his presentations at the TED conference.
Go watch them now. Trust me... His visuals will drop your jaw.
Visualise the popularity of names across states the USA, and over time.
written on 04-Feb-2009
Here's another real-life (though ultimately useless IMHO) example of visualisation of data extracted from Twitter:
http://uk.techcrunch.com/2009/02/02/as-snow-h ... m-in/