datapine is filling your bookshelf fast. We previously discussed the top five data analytics books you must read and then followed that with our top 8 business intelligence books. Now that you’re sold on the power of data analytics and data driven business intelligence, it’s time to explore how to effectively communicate these new findings through data visualization.
Data visualization, or data viz, is the graphic presentation of data. These portrayals are the most effective way to succinctly translate large amounts of data and complex information to a wide audience. Successful visualizations are aesthetically beautiful and also provide layers of detail that efficiently generate insight and new understanding. They can be fun and interactive as well!
The field is growing, and whether you’re a data viz expert or just learning the ropes, there are a wide range of books available to keep you ahead of the game. Overwhelmed by where to start? Just entering data visualization into the Amazon book section returns over 15k items.
Don’t worry, we’ve done the research and reading for you, and developed our top 12 data visualization books. We actually have 13 favorites, but we gave you a head start by including “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don’ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures” by Dona M.Wong at the top of our top eight books on business intelligence.
This list is in no particular order and you’ll find there’s a little bit of everything for everybody: history lessons, theory, psychology, practical implementation, a lesson in psychology and a visually stunning coffee table book for inspiration. Happy reading!
1) “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward R.Tufte
You can’t have a list of data visualization books and not include Edward Tufte. Tufte is considered to be one of the foremost pioneers in the field. “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” is one of his most famous books on the topic. The book covers the theory and design of data graphics and provides 250 illustrations of best and worst examples. Though printed in 1983, it remains a classic and a bestseller on Amazon. Tufte provides a great introduction to core data visualization theories and should be on every data viz bookshelf.
2) “Storytelling With Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals” by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
Lazlo Bock, SVP of People Operations, Google, introduces this next book best: “In ‘Storytelling With Data,’ Cole has created an of-the-moment complement to the work of data visualization pioneers like Edward Tufte. She’s worked at and with some of the most data-driven organizations on the planet as well as some of the most mission-driven, data-free institutions. In both cases, she’s helped sharpen their messages, and their thinking.”
You can create complicated, technical and colorful visualizations and load them with a ton of data. But if your target audience can’t decipher them, what’s the point? In the end, data visualizations are supposed to convey or highlight what’s happening with the data. It’s supposed to tell a story. That is why “Storytelling With Data” is on our list.
Cole’s mission is to teach readers. “Don’t simply show your data – tell a story with it” Her book demonstrates how to go beyond conventional tools to reach the root of your data, and how to use your data to create an engaging and informative story.
3) “Good Charts: The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations” by Scott Berinato
This book is the newest on the list, published in May 2016, making it one of the most relevant data visualization books on the market. What we like about “Good Charts” is that it’s accessible for the data viz beginner, but just as helpful for the more advanced designer.
Berinato highlights the important point that data viz is no longer being left to just the specialists: data scientists and professional designers. A new generation of data visualization tools, like datapine, and massive amounts of data make it easy for the layperson to create visualizations that communicate ideas far more effectively than spreadsheet and PowerPoint charts. In “Good Charts,” Berinato provides an invaluable guide to how data visualization works and how to use data viz to influence and persuade, this book is a must read.
4) “Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-glance Monitoring” by Stephen Few
Don’t let the lack of a visually pleasing cover fool you or as they say: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. This book has much to offer on data visualization. Few helpfully provides a wide range of good and bad dashboards examples. He also provides a great introduction to the principles of data visualization and design theory. If you become a Stephen Few fan, he has multiple data visualization and analytics books to check out.
5) “Beautiful Visualization, Looking at Data Through the Eyes of Experts” by Julie Steele, Noah Iliinsky
This book is part of O’Reilly’s “Beautiful” series with each book a collection of essays from people who work in the field. “Beautiful Visualization” describes the design and development of some well-known visualisations by examining the methods of 24 visualization experts.
One of the great things about this data visualization book is that the authors approach their projects from a variety of perspectives: artists, designers, commentators, scientists, analysts, statisticians and more. The topics include:
- The importance of storytelling through a simple visualization exercise
- Color, and how it conveys information that our brains recognize before we are cognizant of it
- Uncovering a method to the madness of air travel with a civilian air traffic visualization that is beautifully portrayed
6) “The Accidental Analyst: Show Your Data Who’s Boss” by Eileen and Stephen McDaniel
Is Data Analyst suddenly part of your job description? As data analytics increasingly become a necessary part of business, many of us are rushing to catch up to speed. If you suddenly have access to a wealth of data, but aren’t sure what to do with it, crack open this book.
McDaniel provides a clear, step-by-step framework using illustrated examples to help you understand and apply the analytic process to find answers to real-world questions and deliver an effective, and visually impressive, analysis.
7) “The Functional Art” by Alberto Cairo
Data journalist Alberto Cairo is a great example of how data visualization books don’t have to be dry. In “The Functional Art,” Cairo shows how to produce beautiful and engaging work all while sticking to data viz best-practices.
Once you’re finished with “The Functional Art,” you can follow it up with Cairo’s more recent release, “The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication.” His blog on visualization, infographics and data journalism is also a valuable resource.
8) “Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline” by Daniel Rosenberg
This book won’t help you get your business intelligence dashboard up and running for next week’s board meeting, but history buffs will be enthralled by the comprehensive history of graphic representations of time in Europe and the United States from 1450 to the present. The accompanying graphics prove that data visualization isn’t just a modern day science. We have been striving to draw time long before the conception of dashboards!
9) “Visualize This: The Flowing Data Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics” by Nathan Yau
Data viz guru Nathan Yau provides another great practical guide on visualization and how to approach real-world data in “Visualize This.” We recommend this book in color, to take full advantage of the step-by-step tutorials on how to visualize and tell stories with data.
10) “Information Graphics” by Sandra Rendgen, Julius Wiedemann
Looking for inspiration? Or just love data viz as an art? This data visualization almanac is a great coffee table book or one to keep next to your desk for when you’re in a data viz rut.
This book has a little of everything, providing over 400 examples of information graphics from around the world, covering journalism art, government, education, business and more. The introductory essays on data visualisation history and theory, and data journalism are also a good read and the accompanying images worth a long look.
11) “Visual Thinking for Design” by Colin Ware
This book isn’t a how-to for data visualization. It’s not even specifically about data viz. It’s a look at the developing science of human visual perception and design. Designers of all kinds, including data visualization designers, will find this book provides practical guidance in visual and cognitive science that they can utilize. Having a better grasp on design and cognitive psychology will help you understand how your end users are perceiving your work. This understanding will make you a better visualization designer.
12) “Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps” by Jacques Bertin
We round out this list with another data visualization pioneer, Jacques Bertin. Originally published in 1967 in French, Bertin’s Semiology of Graphics holds a significant place in the theory of information design.
Founded on Jacques Bertin’s practical experience as a cartographer, Part One attempts to synthesize principles of graphic communication with the logic of standard rules applied to writing and topography. Part Two brings Bertin’s theory to life, presenting a close study of graphic techniques including shape, orientation, color, texture, volume and size in an array of more than 1,000 maps and diagrams.
It’s time to back away from those Excel spreadsheets and tables and start telling a story with your data. Want to get a head start on deciding what data visualizations you should be building while waiting for these books to arrive? Check out our previous post on how to choose the right data visualizations.