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How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter about Visual Information

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  542 ratings  ·  98 reviews
A leading data visualization expert explores the negative—and positive—influences that charts have on our perception of truth.

We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if we don’t understand what we’re looking at? Social media has made charts, infographics, and diagrams ubiquitous—and easier to share than ever. While such visualizations can better
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I won this in a Goodreads giveaways. It’s a fun and easy to read book
J.C. Ahmed
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Alberto Cairo made what could have been a dry topic entertaining. Charts can be done well, or they can be designed to mislead. Cairo explains how to read good charts, and how to avoid being misled by deceptive charts.

If you listen to the audiobook, you can see the charts he's referring to at
Deniz Cem Önduygu
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book covering many practical and theoretical layers of data/information visualization and journalism. The dozens of examples come from a wide variety of topics like US elections, global development, climate change, movie industry, hurricanes, public health, evolutionary history, among others, all presented within a nice editorial design using a spot color for charts which makes for a sweet visual experience throughout. Yes, you learn a lot about how you should read/design charts and what m ...more
Christopher Obert
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2020
I was so looking forward to reading this book but when I did, it was very disappointing. The book and charts were hard to read (bad choice of colors, sizes and layout). This was a surprise since the book is about how to make charts easier to read and help you understand them. With so many charts available to use as examples (science, business, civics, sports, economy, history, just to name a few) you would have thought that where would have been a wide range displayed in the book. There were not ...more
Anbu Manoharan
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021-books
An interesting read, even when I knew part of what was discussed.

He recommends a few books and hopefully I get to read some of them. I marked some of them as want-to-read, but I also have the habit of keeping the list updated and thereby removing and losing all these suggestions.

Books about reasoning:
1. Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts - Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Be
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: statistics
I found the examples and principles useful. In particular, the discussion about when it is important to start the vertical axis at zero (basically when the graphic conveys information through the length of its elements, as in a bar graph; also, zero has to be a meaningful value for the units used) and when it is not necessarily valuable (as in a scatter plot, where the information is encoded by position not length) was most helpful.
James Ward
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Alberto does a great job of walking you both intentional and unintentional ways that visuals are presented and can be misleading. I strongly recommend this book and it is written in a way that everyone can understand it. No data/stats background is needed.
Antoine Letarte
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Being a math teacher, books about charts and statistics are always appealing to me. They help me make my lessons clearer and inspire me to help my students developping their critical thinking. New examples, new approaches are always welcomed.

What about this one? It was short and sweet. In a good way and a bad way. On the good side, it was very well written. Examples are good, explanations clear, argument well structured; it gets to the essential in a very efficient way. A fast read. On the less
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine introduction to data visualization that provides good examples from recent politics and topics that tend to become partisan quickly, such as immigration, climate change, crime, economics, and global demographics. The focus is not that of a textbook but more of a book that provides examples of good and bad charts and then shows how such charts can arise and how they can mislead. What is especially useful about the book is its focus on constructing quality charts and assuming good i ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book, library
Data and charts often are seen as the ultimate proof in any conversation. But as Cairo writes in this book, visualization can be used - purposely or not - in misleading ways. Documenting a number of examples and showing better ways to communicate with data, Cairo does a good job giving readers skills to understand and question visualizations. Ultimately, he writes, charts can be valuable if the right conditions are met, they should enhance conversation and invite new questions, and the chart sho ...more
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars rounding up for succinctness. Very insightful! I think more than ever when we see charts coming our way every way we turn, it's time we educate ourselves about how to read graphs accurately, and how to spot information that should make us wary. The first 2 chapters might be too elementary for some folks - how charts are built (legends, titles, axis, etc) and how charts lie with dubious data (like not starting at 0 for y-axis) but the rest of the chapters were fascinating. I learned tha ...more
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs, giveaways
I received a copy of this book for free in a Goodreads giveaway.

I really liked this book. While it is easy to see it's value considering the present state of the U.S. union, I was glad to read a rather balanced treatment of the situation. The style of presentation isn't pretentious in any way, quite simple and clear in a manner that makes it easy for regular people to absorb the key points of the book. Its usefulness extends beyond politics, obviously. Hopefully, enough people get to read this b
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you liked Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, then you will like How Charts Lie even more.

The chapters are divided into easily digestible patterns. Although it is important information, it is written with everyday examples. This book should be required reading for college students or even high school students. I love how it enables us to digest scientific information so we can make decisions for ourselves especially
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lot recast from other books, but it's clear, readable, has good examples, and a great explanation of the ecological fallacy. ...more
Robert Kosara
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: visualization, paper
Good book, everyone should read it. More detailed review on my blog soon 😉
Good information: advise against the audiobook unless you have a print copy to reference the charts. Makes you wonder why there's an audiobook version of an explanation of a visual medium, really. ...more
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was ok
Alberto Cairo has a strong pedigree of expertise in visual journalism. He clearly has a keen intellect and a solid grasp of the material. This short book contains good information; but it quickly overwhelms the reader. The organization and writing style bothered me more than the content intrigued me. I became fixated on his self-deprecating humor which came off as being overly insincere and his attempt to organize the book like a conversation.

Whenever Cairo writes " took me several times
Paul Laughlin
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is not just a book to help analysts not lie. It’s as much to help leaders avoid being deceived.

Those familiar with the field of Data Visualisation will already know Alberto’s name from either his presentations or his past books “The Truthful Art” & “The Functional Art”.

Alberto is the Knight Chair of Visual Journalism at the University of Miami. How cool a job title is that? With a background in journalism, in this book, he turns his attention to the layperson.

During a time when politicians
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math
This was quite a lovely read. While the ideas presented aren't new--especially for how many math and statistics books I go through-- the structure and examples that Cairo chose were wonderful. I love that the undercurrent here is entirely on trying to make all humans more informed consumers of the media. All in all, this was a lovely read that I highly recommend.

And from the perspective of a math I really want to make students write me papers where they purposefully twist and mani
Rohit Ghole
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
My first read on Graphicacy, like Author I too agree everyone needs to be well versed in Graphicacy. Good thing about this book is it covers latest mainstream media charts and how they are flawed, especially the ones pertaining to 2016 Presidential Elections. Author does a good job of letting readers know types of chart(though not all of them, he covers the most common ones), how they can be correctly designed and how poor design, dubious and insufficient data can cause readers to misinterpret t ...more
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read for anyone having interests in data visualization and how to comprehend their impact on information spreading.

The author clearly masters its subject and goes to great length and with precise examples to explain the many caveats behind the design of charts. While many of his points are well-known or may appear obvious, the book does a good job maintaining its pertinence through thorough analyses of its subject matter.

I thought it didn't overstay its welcome, and the discussion
Ronda Canary
Feb 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
More like 3.5
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: data
As a person who works with data every day and creates charts to communicate insights, this book provides good examples and things to consider that are both useful for interpreting and creating charts. Data literacy is becoming a much more critical life skill and this book includes relevant, relatable examples from recent history.
Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Graphic literacy should be taught repeatedly. Some takeaways: Humans hold themselves in high regard and feel threatened by anything that may hurt their self-image. Therefore we minimize threatening dissonance by rationalizing our behavior. If later presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we're less likely to accept it and change our minds (confirmation bias and motivational reasoning.) The first notice data that fits with our beliefs; the second to scrutinize ideas more carefully i ...more
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I work in the field of data visualization, and so was familiar with most of the content and heartened by the message. I greatly appreciated the provided examples and analysis of so many misleading charts. As a public health nurse, my fave portion was about Florence Nightengale's use of a unique and truly persuasive chart. Great for readers of charts as well as those who create them. ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I got this book for my role at work as the Data Literacy Program lead, and I absolutely loved it! Alberto Cairo does an excellent job of engaging you on a topic that can be fairly dry in the hands of less talented storytellers. I learned a lot from Stephen Few's data visualization books, but I learned a lot AND had a blast along the way with How Charts Lie. I found myself grabbing my phone to take notes on things that I wanted to add to my curriculum for the Data Literacy program throughout my r ...more
As always, with Alberto Cairo, you get an entertaining, insightful, clearly-written book on the basics of data visualization, and the pitfalls that readers can encounter with charts. The stated goal is to develop the reader's graphical literary or graphicacy (a close cousin to numerical literacy and information literacy). In that goal, I would argue that book is very successful. It can be put in the hands of anyone as it is very accessible, with a lot of both serious and fun examples. In the era ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebook, nook
Cairo’s book is educational and thought-provoking. In a world filled with charts, there is value in learning how to improve our “graphicacy”. Question where the data in the chart comes from. Question the time scale. Question whether the chart shows a correlation or causation (most are the former). Essentially question what’s behind the chart and what the chart’s producer may be trying to convey.

Tyler Vigen maintains a website called Spurious Correlations. Here’s one that’s fun: the number of peo
Mohamed Gheis
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book points to the rampant deficiency in data reasoning skills, associated with the explosion of graphic presentation of data to everyone and on every level. The book calls for fostering graphicacy, a term first introduced in the 1950s, to denote a form of literacy-focused on graphics.
Cairo gives many many examples of how graphic representation can lead to misinterpretations, including how dubious arithmetic and charts have led to lethal sequences. He points to the many extraordinary claim
Stephanie Jones
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly engaging book about visual information, and informative as well. I feel like I better understand how to gain real information from a chart, know the limits of the information I have gained, and spot common ways that charts try to trick you (either intentionally or unintentionally). The examples are highly timely and relevant to important issues at hand: politics, weather events, etc. I genuinely enjoyed examining the charts and the fantastic commentary.
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Alberto Cairo is the Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami. The author of several textbooks, he consults with companies and institutions like Google and the Congressional Budget Office on visualizations. He lives in Miami, Florida.

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“The lesson we learn from Nightingale's experience is that, as painful as it may sound, we humans are barely able to reason on our own or when surrounded by like-minded people. When we try to reason this way, we end up rationalizing because we use arguments as self-reinforcing virtue signals. And the worst news is that the more intelligent we are and the more information we have access to, the more successful our rationalizations are. This is in part because we're more aware of what the members of the groups -- political parties, churches, and others -- that we belong to think, and we try to align with them. On the other hand, if you are exposed to an opinion and don't know where the opinion comes from, you're more likely to think about it on its merits.” 1 likes
“Rationalization is a dialogue with ourselves or with like-minded brains. Reasoning, on the other hand, is an honest and open conversation in which we try to persuade interlocutors who don't necessarily agree with us beforehand with arguments that are as universally valid, coherent, and detailed as possible, while opening ourselves to persuasion.” 1 likes
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