Before going into the review itself, a comment on a slight oddity of the book (which will become important in the review): The copy I read is the 7th...moreBefore going into the review itself, a comment on a slight oddity of the book (which will become important in the review): The copy I read is the 7th printing (March 2011) of the second edition (originally published in 2001; the first edition was published in 1982). The reason I bring this up is a discrepancy not mentioned anywhere in/on the book or on any website I could find. At least one chapter has been rewritten (or added) since the second edition was originally published. Chapter 8 contains examples and data from 2003 and 2004, as well as ending with a data point from 2009! Generally, one would consider the rewriting of a chapter (rather than the correction of typos and other errors) to be, if not a new edition, at least worthy of mentioning in the description of the book, but no such mention has been made. Without a copy of an earlier printing of the same edition, I cannot comment on whether other changes are present or absent; this was the only chapter where I noticed data or examples that post-date the original second edition printing. --- This book by Edward Tufte is considered a classic in graphics design and its easy to see why. Filled with examples of both good and bad graphic design, he eloquently argues for rules of design that maximize information and "truth" to avoid misinformation and distraction. Truly a masterwork, it is not without flaws. He has a tendency toward hyperbole, declaring certain graphs to be the "worst ever made" or "best ever made". He accuses many graphical designers of deliberately lying to the consumer, when the reality in many (although certainly not all) cases is likely more a case of incompetence or ignorance. He states rules to follow with a certainty that are sometimes themselves not backed up with data, but rather simply reflect opinion.
And finally, some of his principles lack any real discussion or acknowledgement or context, something which stands out in particular with the recognition that most of the examples are rather dated. For example, he has a large discussion focused on the size of printed graphics, a discussion which completely ignores any context in which a graphic might be presented beyond the printed page. When the second edition was originally printed in 2001, most scientific presentations were still using overheads or physical slides; the widespread use of Powerpoint for presentations did not take off until a few years after the book was published. However, the chapter with this discussion is the one mentioned above that has clearly been updated since 2009! This enhances the dated feeling of some of the discussion, making one wonder if there is a bit of statistical and graphic Luddite influence to the writing.
I should say that he does mention Powerpoint and Excel at one point with clear disgust, and I am the first to agree that using either for designing *printed* graphics is a very poor choice. However, for for visual presentation in a talk or lecture, Powerpoint is better than many of its competitors. Unfortunately, some of his design discussion simply doesn't translate to non-printed publication, including presentations and graphics to be found on the web, which may have very different design considerations, not the least of which is the potential for consumer interactivity. (He has written additional books, some of which I plan on reading, and some of which may get into these issues, although I suspect not).
Despite all of these flaws, I truly believe the book is incredibly well done and its influence since it was originally published cannot be understated. Scattered throughout the book, often (although not always) recapped at the end of chapters, are "rules" of design that are so striking in their statement, I plan on collecting most of them onto a single piece of paper to hang on the wall by my desk as a visual reminder of what to do and think about when designing my own graphics going forward. That, more than anything else, illustrates my feelings toward this book.(less)
Visualize This is a book about designing visualizations for data ("graphs" more or less, although there are visualizations which are not, strictly spe...moreVisualize This is a book about designing visualizations for data ("graphs" more or less, although there are visualizations which are not, strictly speaking, graphs). The focus of the book was not what I expected; given that the author is a graduate student in statistics, I expected the book to have more of a scientific focus. Instead, it is mostly focused on designing visualizations for websites and/or newspapers and magazines. While there can be a lot of overlap between these tasks and more directly scientific output, the focus made the book less useful and interesting to me than I had hoped it would be.
This is not to imply the book does not contain useful information, it certainly does. It introduces a decent variety of graph styles, many of which are likely unfamiliar to readers. It does discuss valuable resources of which the reader may be unaware, such as Inkscape (a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Illustrator) and 0to255.com (a website for helping choose color schemes). When it does slip into visualization theory the advice is solid and to the point (e.g., how to scale bubble plots so the area of the bubbles properly reflects relatives sizes).
Although I was clearly disappointed in the text and have many criticisms, in the end it has enough advantages to be a worthwhile read, particularly for those who are complete newcomers to visualization or who have a particular interest in data visualization for the web.(less)
Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs is an excellent resource...if you live in the right part of the country. I happen to live in the southwest and...moreDirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs is an excellent resource...if you live in the right part of the country. I happen to live in the southwest and was immediately disheartened when the first couple of trees I tried looking up in it were completely missing (e.g., mesquite and palo verde, both of which are quite common out here). I did find the third I tried, Desert Willow, so not all was lost.
Beyond the bias against southwestern trees, the book is excellent, with information on the growing habits of thousands of trees. It needs to be made clear that this book is aimed at gardening and landscaping. It is not a scientific text or a field guide. It is focused on the growth characteristics of trees you might wish to plant or cultivate.
I particularly like the special indices at the rear of the book which list plants by specific characteristics, such as flower color, fall color, time of flowering, fragrance, fruit, shade tolerance, salt tolerance, etc. (less)
Most field guides have a very similar design: they are essentially laundry lists of species (some comprehnsive, some focused on common species), with...moreMost field guides have a very similar design: they are essentially laundry lists of species (some comprehnsive, some focused on common species), with photos/drawings, brief descriptions, and maps, usually with a short introductory section on general issues of the groups involved but not much more detail than that. The new Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding is completely different. Almost a third of this ~450 page book is about learning the principles of understanding what you see (or hear) in the field. Rather than simply show you what the different species are, it teaches you how to identify the species. After the thorough and detailed "introduction" on generally how to identify birds, the rest of the book focuses on each of the major groups of birds, what the common problems are with that group, and what characters are most diagnostic. Detailed explanations are given on how to identify the more confusing species within each group. The language is clear and easy to read and the photographs are excellent and cover many more angles, ages, as variants than most. For some species they even include sonograms of the common calls, something I've never seen in another guide and which (with practice) can definitely serve as a much better indicator of call that textual descriptions.
Although it covers a reasonably large number of species, this book cannot substitue for your favorite "laundry list" field guide because it simply doesn't contain the full list/descriptions of all of the species in North America. However, not only will you want this guide as a supplement to the other guide (or perhaps, more accurately, the other guide is really the supplement to this one), unlike that guide, this is the book you will actually want to read from cover to cover, because doing so is a lesson in bird identification that standard field guides simply do not offer. This is a must read for anyone interested in birding and identifying species in the field. (less)
An updated edition of the classic guide to freshwater fishes, this book follows the basic Peterson style of combining all of the plates (with 1-2 sent...moreAn updated edition of the classic guide to freshwater fishes, this book follows the basic Peterson style of combining all of the plates (with 1-2 sentence diagnostic descriptions) together, with the detailed text and range maps in a separate sections. Ther are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Having all of the images clustered allows one to more easily visually compare similar species at a glance; however, I have found that I like quickly being able to assess a range map and broader description without having to page back and forth in the book. Beyond this single design decision (which is shared by all Peterson guides), this new book is an excellent guide to North American fresh water fish. The illustrations are without peer, highlighting diagnostic characters, allowing one to more easily ID an uknown species. The opening material is also excellent, including clear illustrations of anatomy and specific descriptions and instructions on how to measure and count specific markers (e.g., gill rakers or fin rays) which might be new to a novice naturalist.(less)
The illustrations in this book are beautiful, but in looking through them and comparing them to personal photos I have taken, I find that they are gen...moreThe illustrations in this book are beautiful, but in looking through them and comparing them to personal photos I have taken, I find that they are generally not very useful for identification.(less)
This is an excellent book about the the sexual habits of life (not just humans, but all life), examined from an evolutionary perspective. The material...moreThis is an excellent book about the the sexual habits of life (not just humans, but all life), examined from an evolutionary perspective. The material is whimsically presented as a collection of sex advice columns from Dr. Tatiana: think Dr. Ruth giving advice to insects and fish, reptiles and mammals. An example of a “letter” from one of her readers, early in the book:
“Dear Dr. Tatiana, My boyfriend is the handsomest golden potto I ever saw. He's got beautiful golden fur on his back, creamy white fur on his belly, he smells delicious, and he has ever such dainty hands and feet. There's just one thing. Please Dr. Tatiana, why is his penis covered with enormous spines?”
Most of the book is focused on animal sexual behavior, but plants and even bacteria are both also touched on. In a remarkable way, the book deanthropomorphizes sex by first anthropomorphizing it, a tricky task to be sure. The writing is humorous, ribald, and highly intelligent. A wide range of topics and behaviors are covered, including such wide ranging mysteries as complex genitalia, promiscuity in both males and females, sperm competition, asexuality, cannibalism of mates, the strange and rare situation of monogamy, hermaphroditism, homosexuality, and incest. And while most of the book is focused on non-human sexual behavior, humans are not left out, with many of the chapters applying some of the factors to human sex and reproduction.
Having heard the author (Olivia Judson, a science writer/journalist with a PhD in evolutionary biology from Stanford) speak about the book a few months ago, I must admit that I also "read" the book in her British accent, something which may have added an extra touch of atmosphere. There is definitely a British sense of humor underlying much of the book.