Independent in All Things, Neutral in Nothing

Review: Introducing Statistics

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While I visited family in Louisville last week, I browsed through Carmichael’s bookstore, of the last independent book sellers in the city. I ran into a section of books called “Introducing …. A Graphic Guide.” The titles ranged from Introducing Freud: A Graphic Guide to Introducing Buddha: A Graphic Guide. The one on statistics caught my eye, so I bought it and read it over the next couple days. 

Unfortunately, the book disappointed, in two major ways. First, it discussed the history of statistics far more than offering an introduction. Every two pages, it seemed, the authors introduced a new figure in the development of statistics. While that history provided some useful color, it also meant that more topics were covered, and in a superficial way, than I expected in an introductory book. Indeed, the book ran through: variation, the name ‘statistics,’ vital vs. mathematical statistics, demography, polar area graphs,  Florence Nightingale’s role in developing statistics, probability, relative frequency, Poisson Distribution, the Gaussian Curve and the Principle of Least Squares, samples vs. populations, methods of moments, Galton’s Dilemma, the tau coefficient, and about 20 other concepts. As new ideas came thick and fast as the pages turned, I found my eyes glazing over, and my mind unable to keep up with the quick explanations of dozens of concepts.

In addition, the book attracted me as a ‘graphic guide.’ While it does contain a few helpful graphics, by and large, the graphics distracted from the material. Bobble-heads, odd designs and fonts, and vaguely relevant drawings dominated the pages. As I read, I kept coming back to Edward Tufte’s admonition that design follows content. This book included pictures for pictures’ sake, and large ones. The writings on the page were frequently broken up by the drawings, meaning my eyes had to scurry around looking for where to pick up the thread.  As intellectually interesting as it is to see what Adolphe Quetelet looked like, I don’t need to see his mug on a quarter of the page. In short, the drawings significantly distracted from the effectiveness of the book as a resource and learning tool.

The book, upon first glance, had much promise. Indeed, I had already begun to look forward to reading other volumes in the series — Stephen Hawking, Islam, Capitalism and Logic especially attracted my eye. But after my experience with this volume, I’ll look for better introductions to those topics.


Written by Russell S.

April 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm

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  1. […] Introducing Statistics: A Graphic Guide — Eileen Magnello and Borin Van Loon […]

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