Approximately two years ago I began working on a new edition of my book Show Me the Numbers. The work took longer than I originally hoped. When you travel as often as I do, the large blocks of time that are needed to focus on writing are hard to find. I’m pleased to announce, however, that Show Me the Numbers, Second Edition is finally available.
You might wonder why I wrote a second edition only eight years after the first. Has that much changed? Although relatively few changes have taken place in data visualization, I’ve learned a great deal more than I knew eight years ago. Most of the changes that I’ve made to the new edition are the results of broadened and deepened expertise.
Show Me the Numbers was the first of three books that I’ve now written. When I wrote it originally I had only recently begun focusing on data visualization despite having worked for nearly 20 years in information technology, mostly in business intelligence. I devoured the work of Edward Tufte and others, compiled the best of it, ran it through the filter of my own experience, then organized and expressed it to address the practical needs of people who work with data. Since writing the first edition of the book, I have taught data visualization courses internationally to thousands of people, written scores of articles, white papers, and two more books, and have worked with and advised many diverse organizations. As a result, my expertise has matured. The second edition of Show Me the Numbers is the result of this maturity.
In addition to my professional development, a few things have been happening in the world that affect graphical communication—some positive, which I describe in the new edition, and some negative, which I warn against. On the positive side, two people in particular have shown that important stories involving numbers can be told in compelling ways. Even though Al Gore did not invent data visualization (or the Internet), the compelling nature of the graphical displays in his film An Inconvenient Truth began to change the tide of opinion about global warming. Those graphical displays moved people thanks to expert assistance from Nancy Duarte and Duarte Design. Another person who has used graphics to capture the imaginations of many in recent years is Hans Rosling of GapMinder.org. When this Swedish professor took the stage at the 2006 Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Conference and told a story about the relationship between fertility and life expectancy throughout the world from 1962 to the present using an animated bubble chart, a new era of quantitative storytelling began.
On the negative side, the availability of bad graphs has increased since the first edition of the book. This expansion of bad graphical presentation has been made possible by the Web and has been fueled by uninformed so-called experts and self-serving software vendors. During the past few years, the number of people who claim expertise in data visualization has increased dramatically, but unfortunately many of them do not exhibit best practices. This is especially true of many graphic artists whose data-based visualizations are greeted with fanfare even though they don’t actually inform, or do so poorly. Flashy visual displays are engaging, but unless they invite people to think about data in meaningful ways that lead to understanding, they fail in their purpose.
The new edition of Show Me the Numbers is 93 pages longer than the original, but the list price of this beautifully printed hardback is still only $45 (less expensive from Amazon.com). Here are some of the highlights:
- A new preface
- A new chapter entitled “Silly Graphs That Are Best Forsaken,” which alerts readers to some of the current misuses of graphs such as donut charts, circle charts, unit charts, and funnel charts
- A new chapter about visual quantitative narrative entitled “Telling Compelling Stories with Numbers”
- New appendices entitled “Constructing Table Lens Displays in Excel,” Constructing Box Plots in Excel,” and “Useful Color Palettes.”
- Material about geospatial data displays
- Updated figures throughout, plus many that are new
I believe that Show Me the Numbers is now a much better book that won’t need to be revised again for many years to come. If you like the original, I’m confident that you’ll love this new, more comprehensive and polished edition.