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Visual Explanations

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  2,822 ratings  ·  108 reviews
Few would disagree: Life in the information age can be overwhelming. Through computers, the Internet, the media, and even our daily newspapers, we are awash in a seemingly endless stream of charts, maps, infographics, diagrams, and data. Visual Explanations is a navigational guide through this turbulent sea of information. The book is an essential reference for anyone invo ...more
Hardcover, Third revision, 156 pages
Published April 1998 by Graphics Press (first published February 1997)
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Average rating 4.29  · 
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 ·  2,822 ratings  ·  108 reviews

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Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Tufte obsessives, bored library patrons
Shelves: social-science
After I finished the first book in my exploration of Edward Tufte’s ouerve (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information), I wondered what more he could possibly have to say about the grammar of graphic design. And if the mere 138 pages of this his third book (discounting introduction and index) is any indication… not all that much. According to Tufte, “Visual Explanations is about pictures of verbs [his emphasis:], the representation of mechanism and motion, of process and dynamics, of causes ...more
Dec 15, 2008 rated it liked it
This book was fun to read, but I took a lot less away from it than I did from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. As usual, there's pages and pages of visuals that he does or doesn't like. But unlike TVDoQI, there's no theoretical framework to go with his opinions. Much of it is Tufte lampooning charts he doesn't like.

I found the chapters on magic and confections completely useless. The two ideas I took from this book:

- You should always ask yourself what point you're trying to make
Gang Lei
Quite a nice book. There were one or two things that I haven't seen in other books so far, but I had a gut feeling that it's the right way to go. There were a couple of things that I am not really convinced about, but maybe it all depends on the context. All in all, I thnik it was well written and worth reading.
Vishal Katariya
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: design, non-fiction
Eh. Not as good as Tufte's seminal work but still fun to read. I am a big fan of Tufte's style and philosophy. Much of the book, however, is stuff that Tufte likes and stuff that he doesn't. I suppose he's allowed to do that, but whatever. I found the chapter on magic tricks fascinating. It definitely seemed out-of-place, but it seemed an eccentric and fun choice.
Dave Emmett
Jul 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: visual designers, data nerds
Shelves: vpl, design, 2010
One of my profs in university had a saying: "No one dies on the internet", but after reading the parts of this book about the Challenger disaster, I'm starting to think our design decisions can have very serious repercussions for people's lives. The scientists who tried to prevent the launch of the Challenger couldn't sell NASA on the problem (o-rings break down at low temps, and it was cold when it launched), and so it launched and blew up. It isn't enough just to present data and hope people c ...more
Sep 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yellow
Subtitle: "Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative"

Edward Tufte's books are, not surprisingly given his chosen specialty, immensely
satisfying just to leaf through. The paper is high quality, the figures are
pleasant to look at, and the layout is thoughtfully done. Which is good, because
if you're going to make a book on (or a career out of) the study of how to make
effective figures, you'd better be able to demonstrate your skills in the book.

The best story in this book is Tufte's examination
May 25, 2011 rated it liked it
(3.0) A few interesting insights, but he doesn't always practice what he preaches

The layout of his pages are often distracting, images all over the place, footnotes taking such a prominent place, difficulty of distinguishing footnotes from figure labels (some of which seemed actually absent?). In one case he even has a figure in a footnote.

The book starts off really well and then devolves a bit. The statistics, quantitative stuff are good, as is the discussion of parallelism and multiple figures
Graham Herrli
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: design-related
Tufte makes the claim in the introduction to this book that his books approach visual displays of information differently, that this book is about "pictures of verbs the representation of mechanism and motion, of process and dynamics, of causes and effects, of explanation and narrative", while The Visual Display of Quantitative Information was about pictures of numbers.

However, I found this book to be too similar in content to the other two books I've read by Tufte (the third being Beaut
Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Like the apology for good manners in a book of etiquette, Tufte describes the goal of visual information as to make verbs visible. Information display should document, compare, show cause and effect, explain, quantify, contain multivariate data, explore and exercise skepticism. Though the design of the book itself has little specialty, the examples and explanatory text are fascinating. Analyses of data from the producers of the shuttle Challenger to investigatory organizations and the documents ...more
Dewey Norton
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Superb read along with Tufte's others. After reading all three published up to that time, I attended one of Tufte's public seminars which was outstanding. I met Tufte in graduate school about 1970, when I invited him to come over from Princeton to Penn to speak to a graduate students association of which I was president. I was pleasantly suprised at how many faculty members showed up. Tufte's reputation was growing rapidly.

He is undoubtedly the greatest writer ever on how to analyze and display
Nicolae Racovita
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
my professional life can be divided in two: before and after this book (also all other books by Edward Tufte). if you are into visual design, web design, interaction design, any design, read those. from a rating of 1 to 5, it's 50. really.
btw, after reading it, any other book is usually a disappointment. i mean at least from the look and feel and easy understanding.
Nov 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: data, series
Not as good as "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" but worth reading. The section on the decision to launch the space shuttle Challenger is very worthwhile, and can be recommended as a case study for anyone who ever has to either base a decision on data or present data.
Leonard Houx
Nov 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad I read this book. Tufte dissects beautiful, fascinating and humorous illustrations in impeccable prose. *Visual Explanations* not only taught me a great deal about visual design, it taught me a great deal about presentation in general. I look forward to implementing these insights.

Andrew Dale
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I think it's going to be difficult for me to divorce this review from those I've written for Edward R. Tufte's other books. After attending one of his in-person seminars, I decided to work through the four books that were included as a part of the ticket price, in chronological order. This the third one, which he sums up in the Introduction as being about "pictures of verbs", as opposed to The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which explores "pictures of numbers" and Envisioning Inform ...more
Titania Remakes the World
Tufte shows how to examine data for quality and "truthiness". Tufte also shows how to "design" information to turn meaningless data into meaningful, usable information--which could improve your business communications to nuclear-strength, or help the war on "Fake News".

Due to the cost-cutting elimination of many fact-checkers and overseers of information quality & ethics in newsagencies, corporations, and schools, many people are losing important teachers and tools for cr
Jan 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I got a lot less out of this than I did from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which is to say still a fair amount. I thought it was an enjoyable read nonetheless and certainly worth spending a few evenings on. The main thrust of the book seemed to be that it's important to show the reader information in a way that maximally enhances their understanding. Beyond that there's a list of examples of what to do and not do, and I'll remember those down the line when I'm looking at or mak ...more
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Not as prescriptive and edifying as his other books. It reads as a narrative, describing and explaining visualizations.
Mary Caravella
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The original reference on visual communications
Ryan Croke
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful and useful book. Worth studying.
Sten Vesterli
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As always with Edward Tufte, this book is beautifully produced and provides ample examples of the principles he teaches. This book shows the famous analysis by John Snow of the cholera epidemic in London in 1854, including the diagram of where where the deaths occurred. Tufte also clearly shows how a better presentation of data might very well have postponed the launch of the space shuttle Challenger and saved the seven astronauts who died when the shuttle blew up due to frozen O-rings. Highly r ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just like Tufte's other books, this is a must-read for anybody who is serious about telling visual stories.
Faith Perry
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Should be mandatory for anyone working with data visualization. The dude is a genius.
Tony Duan
May 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Tufte offers this helpful breakdown of his information design trilogy:

> The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is about *pictures of numbers*, how to depict data and enforce statistical honesty.

> Envisioning Information is about *pictures of nouns* (maps and aerial photographs, for example, consist of a great many nouns lying on the ground).

> Visual Explanations is about *pictures of verbs*, the representation of mechanism and motion, of process and dynamics, of causes and effects, of ex
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Third of the series of Tufte's brilliantly-done graphic design and quantitative analysis guides, this one focuses on images that provide "Visual Explanations." These images can show quantities, least significant differences, parallels, and explanations in ways that enhance and exceed text or numerical table data.

As usual, the book is lavishly illustrated with examples painstakingly reproduced and clearly printed on high-quality paper. Tufte's books feel and look classic and classy. They are a de
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Another excellent production from Tufte, with the caveat that the weaker of the items in the subtitle is "narrative". Much more emphasis is put on evidence, and the proper way to display that evidence; or, rather, there are lots of points about narrative which I do not think Tufte covers as well as could have done.
Daniel Beck
Jun 04, 2015 rated it liked it
This book shows that Tufte's a brilliant designer, but a poor critical thinker. Tufte creates and calls attention to some beautiful displays of information, but he has a tendency to fixate on the display of information and not its origins. For example, Tufte rightly praises Huygens's diagrams showing the phases of Saturn's rings and its role in establishing their existence. But he also revels in what I can only characterize as heckling the astronomers that preceded Huygens for their failure to a ...more
Roger K.
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a very good book in excellent packaging. Like Tufte's other books, this is a book as suitable for display as it is for reading.

The focus of the book is on how to present information in a compelling yet honest manner. Tufte makes extensive use of visuals in excellent case studies such as the London cholera epidemic, the Challenger disaster, and modeling a storm.

His recommendations for presenters are straightforward:

* Near the beginning, tell the audience what the problem is, why it is i
Stan Heller
Feb 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Still reading this..

Tuftee is a pretty serious buzz name in the design community and this book gives that buzz some traction. His main premise is that if you think you can lie with statistics, you can tell real whoppers with visuals.

Tuftee is pretty clear about how to make graphic representations accurate. Spatial orientation. Scale. Context. All of these things need to be added to the visual image to "place" it in a meaningful and accurate context.

Currently reading the chapter on how in
DWRL Library
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The third volume in his series of books on visual representations of information, this beautifully designed book looks closely at charts, diagrams and illustrations that represent changes over time. (The first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, covers numerical information, while the second, Envisioning Information, focuses on maps). As Tufte says in the introduction, this text covers “the logic of depicting quantitative evidence” as well as “design strategies…for the arrangem ...more
Jeff Goldenberg
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Tufte's first book on the topic of making great diagrams, presentations, etc. Nowhere near as good as the later Visual Display of Quantitative Information. If you've read any of his later books, there is nothing of value in this one. If you haven't read any of his others, you can skip this one. The only interesting thing in the book is the two case studies presenting his example of one of the best uses of intelligent diagrams to solve a mystery and prevent a catastrophe, compared to one of the w ...more
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Edward Rolf Tufte (born 1942 in Kansas City, Missouri to Virginia and Edward E. Tufte), a professor emeritus of statistics, graphic design, and political economy at Yale University has been described by The New York Times as "the Leonardo da Vinci of Data". He is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics such as charts and diagrams, and is a fellow of the American Statistical Associa ...more

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