How Charts Lie
Getting Smarter about Visual Information
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A leading data visualization expert explores the negative—and positive—influences that charts have on our perception of truth.
We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if we don’t understand what we’re looking at? Social media has made charts, infographics, and diagrams ubiquitous—and easier to share than ever. We associate charts with science and reason; the flashy visuals are both appealing and persuasive. Pie charts, maps, bar and line graphs, and scatter plots (to name a few) can better inform us, revealing patterns and trends hidden behind the numbers we encounter in our lives. In short, good charts make us smarter—if we know how to read them.
However, they can also lead us astray. Charts lie in a variety of ways—displaying incomplete or inaccurate data, suggesting misleading patterns, and concealing uncertainty—or are frequently misunderstood, such as the confusing cone of uncertainty maps shown on TV every hurricane season. To make matters worse, many of us are ill-equipped to interpret the visuals that politicians, journalists, advertisers, and even our employers present each day, enabling bad actors to easily manipulate them to promote their own agendas.
In How Charts Lie, data visualization expert Alberto Cairo teaches us to not only spot the lies in deceptive visuals, but also to take advantage of good ones to understand complex stories. Public conversations are increasingly propelled by numbers, and to make sense of them we must be able to decode and use visual information. By examining contemporary examples ranging from election-result infographics to global GDP maps and box-office record charts, How Charts Lie demystifies an essential new literacy, one that will make us better equipped to navigate our data-driven world.
Praise For How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter about Visual Information…
— Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Statistics
Funny, engaging, and mathematically correct…A must read for anyone who wants to stay informed.
— Cathy O’Neil, best-selling author of Weapons of Math Destruction
I wish we lived in a world where you didn’t need to read Alberto Cairo’s How Charts Lie, a robust guide to self-defense against graphs and figures designed to mislead. But here we are, and yes, you do.
— Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong
Alberto Cairo has written a wise, witty, and utterly beautiful book. You couldn’t hope for a better teacher to improve your graphical literacy.
— Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and presenter of More or Less
Alberto Cairo shares great examples of data visualization and storytelling for anyone who wants to dig into their data.
— Dona Wong, author of The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but only if you know how to read it. In this book, Alberto Cairo teaches us how to get smarter about visual information by reading charts with attention and care. I found a lot to steal here, and you will, too.
— Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist
This book will open your eyes to how everyone uses visuals to push agendas. A master visual designer, Alberto Cairo shows you how to read charts and decode design. After this book, you can’t look at charts with a straight face!
— Kaiser Fung, author of Numbers Rule Your World
W. W. Norton & Company, 9781324001560, 256pp.
Publication Date: October 15, 2019