Three stars, read in February 2015.
This book is enjoyable and beautifully put together, but some of the infographics are repetitive, hard to understand, or just plain bizarre. Out of 80 infographics, for example, twelve are about space, which is one every six or seven pages. There’s one showing relative brain size for different species and one comparing the smallest living thing to the largest—which I feel like we’ve all seen about a thousand times, right? Interesting enough the first few times, but not really groundbreaking news.
Of the stranger variety, there’s a graph showing how long it would take you to fall from various tall structures; one about the makeup and activities of various global gangs (the Mafia, the Yakuza, the Sinaloa Cartel); one detailing global vacuuming habits; and one that asks whether, if you were shot into space with nothing but a very long tape measure, you’d be able to identify the planet you landed on solely from its mean radius.
Like I said, though, many of these graphs are gorgeously designed. While I didn’t find the information itself fascinating, the one that shows where the strongest tornadoes hit was visually one of my favorites. I loved the one that showed where in the world different types of dinosaurs have been found, and was surprised to learn that Atlanta is the busiest airport in the entire world, in both takeoffs/landings and passenger volume. The one comparing deaths caused by pandemic and by war is both morbid and fantastically illustrated.
One of the most interesting pieces of information comes from the introduction, which points out that Florence Nightingale—a pioneering statistician in addition to her more famous work as a nurse—was one of the first in modern times to represent data visually. And the visuals here are lovely. But more than just having a great design, they’re supposed to show the relationships between one piece of data and another, and not all of them do that very clearly. For some (like the one showing how much power the Death Star would need to blow up the planets in our solar system) the chart isn’t very meaningful if you don’t know a lot about the joule. With graphs like the carbon footprints of vegans vs. meat-eaters and the genetic makeup of humans compared to other animals, I just wasn’t really sure what I was looking at.
All things considered, it’s definitely worth 45 minutes to read through, if only to see some great design work and learn how much all your organs are worth on the black market. You never know when that might come in handy.