BOOK REVIEW: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte

March 5, 2005 by Stacey Barr

Make quantitative information useful for decision making

I have heard this book described as a really good coffee-table book. It’s content, while often technical and very much focused on the theory of graphs and diagrams and data and information, very practically demonstrates the impact of how quantitative information is visually presented, and shows many alternatives that are quantum improvements on the originals. It’s easy to draw out the principles that Tufte demonstrates, and to apply them to your own work.

The book’s examples are drawn from many interesting areas such as the New York State Budget, train schedule graphs, irrigation maps of 1972, heights of college students, the price of crude oil and the thermal conductivity of tungsten. Through these case studies, Tufte makes conscious for the reader the way in which humans read visual information and how poorly the majority of our visual information is designed in respect of this.

It has greatly influenced the work I do in helping people design reports of organisational performance information, how they choose and format charts in particular. I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who regularly reports or presents data and information to others to assist their decision making.


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