Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte The largest of the four books in this series by Edward Tufte, Beautiful Evidence is a welcome addition. It includes excellent examples of graphical excellence, in equally excellent production, which lead to general principles of presentation of data. I encourage you to take Tufte’s own advice about consuming evidence presentations; skip this second hand discussion of his book (i.e. the rest of this post) and go straight to the primary resource, Beautiful Evidence itself.

My favorite aspect of Tufte’s books are the examples: both good and bad. The good for examples to emulate; the bad for the humor.Beautiful Evidence is no exception, there are hundreds of images, graphs, diagrams, tables, and arrows in this book. The most notable bad examples come from the chapter on PowerPoint presentations (available as a separate pamphlet). The most notable good example is the extended discussion of Minard’s data-map of the French invasion of Russia, a Tufte favorite. Even the good examples are often dissected to find weaknesses.

Tufte lists his “principles for the analysis and presentation of data” as:

  1. “Show comparisons, contrasts, differences.”
  2. “Show causality, mechanism, explanation, systematic structure.”
  3. “Show multivariate data; that is, show more than 1 or 2 variables.”
  4. “Completely integrate words, numbers, images, diagrams.”
  5. “Thoroughly describe the evidence. Provide a detailed title, indicate the authors and sponsors, document the data sources, show complete measurement scales, point out relevant issues.”
  6. “Analytical presentations ultimately stand or fall depending on the quality, relevance, and integrity of their content.”

It would be worthwhile to collect the various principles listed in the other books.

I thought the sparklines chapter was most informative; this was interesting material that really brought something new to the discussion. The “Corruption in Evidence Presentations” chapter was also very valuable. The sculpture pedastal chapter was my least favorite. I can (somewhat) understand why it’s there, but it’s not really what I’m looking for in this book. Much of the other chapters were material that were touched on in his other books, but are discussed and summarized with examples here.

One thing I would like to see is a combined index for all four books. Frequently I remember I saw something in one of them and it always seems like I have to check the index of all three of them (now all four) before I find it. It only gets worse as more are added. The books don’t seem to be in Google Book Search yet, either.

Tufte says in the introduction that there will be at least five books in the series (Beautiful Evidence is the fourth). The previous three, in order, were The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (“pictures of numbers”), Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (“pictures of nouns”) and Envisioning Information (“pictures of verbs”).

This post follows up on a previous post about pre-ordering Beautiful Evidence. Also, see posts about IDL implementations of sparklines and dichotomous sparklines.