Sunday, June 10, 2012

An information graphics and visualization reading list

If you are going to collect books, you better hire reliable bookkeepers

Every now and then I find a message in my Inbox asking for an information graphics and visualization reading list. As my students know, I love to recommend wonderful books. So here we go.
(Notes: (A) If I were you, I'd take a look at these books more or less in the order they are presented, as the list starts from the basics and goes to the more advanced stuff; (B) I don't suggest any book about software; (C) I don't mention all books about graphics that I think are relevant see the photograph above; there are many more,— but just a small and maybe a bit idiosyncratic selection that can help you get started; (D) I have not included The Functional Art for obvious reasons!)
1. The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam (Amazon)
Roam shows how to visually organize and display information using just pen and paper. This book is fun and includes tons of hand-drawn examples.

2. Nigel Holmes on Information Design, by Steven Heller (Amazon)
The art director of The New York Times interviews one of the best infographics designers ever. 140 pages of insight.

3. Visual Language for Designers, by Connie Malamed (Amazon)
Malamed discusses the psychology of visual perception and cognition and offers good examples of information graphics.

4. Show me the Numbers, by Stephen Few (Amazon)
One of the best books about data and charts I know. See the post linked above to learn more.

5. How to Lie With Maps, by Mark Monmonier (Amazon)
Cartographic concepts may be hard to grasp if you try to read an advanced textbook before going through the basics, so first read this shork book. When you finish, projection, scale, and symbolization will not be mysteries anymore.
6. Malofiej book series (Amazon)
These are the books to get if you need some inspiration. They collect the annual Malofiej Awards, organized since 1992 by the Spanish Chapter of the Society for News Design. The text is bilingual (Spanish and English) and, besides tons of great graphics, these volumes include articles by leading professionals.

7. Creating More Effective Graphs, by Naomi B. Robbins (
A catalogue of good and bad practices in statistical graphics design. Very informative and well organized.

8. The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics, by Dona M. Wong (
An elegant and beautifully illustrated short guide to charts, written with the news designer in mind.

9. Visualize This!, by Nathan Yau (Amazon)
If you've heard about the FlowingData blog before, I don't need to introduce you to Nathan Yau. His book includes a short intro to graphics and then plenty of useful details about programming languages.

10. Thematic Cartography and Geographic Visualization, by Terry A. Slocum (
This is the book I like the most in my small cartography collection, and it is probably the one from which I have learned the most about mapping. If you still don't know what a "choropleth" map is, then run to the bookstore.

11. Information Visualization, by Colin Ware (Amazon)
This impressive book was life-changing for me. Thanks to it, many things I did everyday at the newsroom suddenly made a lot of sense, while others stopped making sense at all.

12. How Maps Work, by Alan M. MacEachren (
If you are following the reading path I suggest, before you get to this massive volume you may have gone through Ware's, so you will be ready for the oceans of fascinating information in MacEachren's pages. This is the most comprehensive explanation of why our brain is wired to understand visual spatial representations.

13. The Elements of Graphing Data, by William Cleveland (
A spartan-looking classic that may be hard to digest if you don't read Tufte, Few, and Robbins first. It is a must-read if you are serious about your career, though.

See the column on the right for more readings suggestions.