Book Review - The Truthful Art by Alberto Cairo

Book Cover of The Truthful Art

;TLDR - Loved it. A good, tool agnostic overview of many disciplines of data visualization.

First, my confession. It took me nearly 2 years to read The Truthful Art. I attribute this to wanting to read it when I had time to focus on reading and thinking about the topic at hand rather than 15 or 20 minutes at the end of my lunch hour. A good way to think of it is that I wanted to take the time to savor a fine dinner. Rich full-color graphics, textbook quality pages, good typography I wish I had gotten it in hardcover. From the first page, I could tell it was going to be good. Unfortunately, much of my time to read is right before bed, and frequently, I felt like I didn’t have the brain power left at the end of the day to do this book justice.

The chapter where I got the most benefit was Chapter 6 ‘Exploring Data with Simple Charts’ which fueled my learning in both the proprietary platform Tableau as well as the open source Python library Altair. This visual take on EDA improved my understanding on several data projects at work, as well as my current hobby project The Walks of Nathan Lowell.

The chapter that sparked the most thought (and inspired a whole additional deep dive) was Chapter 10, ‘Mapping Data.’ It reminded me that last year, my favorite data project involved spatial data and geospatial relationships. Because of this, I have started a MOOC on QGIS and Post-GIS.

While some of the examples in the book are noted as being created in R-Shiny or Tableau, most are not attributed, since they could be created in any number of packages/platforms. In my opinion, too many people focus on tooling over methodology/deliverables when it comes to data visualization. In 10 years, there will be a whole new set of tools to choose from, but a solid presentation of data vs. a shady one will still be something argued about.

The Truthful Art’ is best suited for someone who already has done some work with graphs, charts, and dashboards that is looking to take their craft to the next level. While the book has a data-journalism mindset in a few places, most of the advice focused on the journalist can be applied to any analyst that is not an expert in that domain.

I have already pre-ordered Alberto’s next book How Charts Lie.

How Charts Lie is my first book for the general public, an explanation of how anyone, regardless of education or professional background, can become a more informed reader of graphs, maps, diagrams, and infographics. - Alberto Cairo

Additional Reading

Written on May 27, 2019