I recently took a look at a new book from O’Reilly Media that’s a thoughtful introduction to the general concepts of data analysis. Unlike most books on data analysis, this is not software-specific and it does not focus on some complicated aspect of statistical or financial analysis. The book is Head First Data Analysis by Michael Milton. In its Head First series, O’Reilly is trying to provide books that introduce computer-related topics in a way that speaks to the way our brains learn. These books teach the material using real-world scenarios with lots of activities to engage us in thinking, rather than merely throwing a bunch of information at us and hoping that some will stick. Head First Data Analysis fills a useful gap at just the right time. Now that organizations are beginning to take the need for effective data analysis more seriously and people of all types are becoming responsible for the task, this book presents the basic concepts in a way that is practical and accessible to all.
Milton doesn’t go deeply into any of the concepts, but that’s by design. If you’re comfortable with statistics, this is not the book for you, but if you’re one of the many people who must make sense of quantitative information as part of your job and you’ve never been trained in data analysis, this book will set your feet on the path. Milton does a good job of identifying the basics that people need to get started and explaining them in simple ways that make them immediately useful. It’s a workbook of sorts, with exercises throughout. If you really want to learn, this is the way to do it.