Book Review: How Charts Lie by Alberto Cairo

I recently had the pleasure of reading Alberto Cairo’s latest book How Charts Lie.  No matter if you are a data visualization expert or only familiar with charts you see on TV and in the media, this book will help you make smarter decisions in reading and interpreting the charts you encounter in your daily life.  I highly recommend reading it.

How Charts Lie provides a captivating mixture of topics touching on philosophy, sociology, and graphical literacy (also known as graphicacy).  Cairo does a masterful job of providing guidelines and guideposts on how to read and analyze not only charts you see but any data that you are presented.  Where this book set itself apart from others in the data visualization genre is the examination of how these charts and data interact with the reader’s mind.  By providing many real-world examples of chart trickery (accidental and otherwise) readers will become more discernible consumers of information.  Additionally, as important as being a responsible information consumer, Cairo delves into the responsibility incumbent upon chart creators and even those that simply pass along charts to others.

One poignant message that Cairo delivers throughout the book is that a chart only shows what it shows.  Beware of inferring causation from a chart because of personal beliefs or the chart creator’s bias.  Make sure to take the time needed to analyze what is being displayed.  If a visualization appears too good to be true, it’s at least worth researching further before solidifying an opinion.

This book has provided me greater cause for thinking about charts that I see and to have conversations around data and news with an open mind.  To be open to persuasion while being mindful of trickery and my own implicit bias.  The book goes on sale on October 15th.  Make sure to add it to your reading list and pre-order it from Amazon here: https://amazon.com/How-Charts-Lie-Getting-Information/dp/1324001569