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Information Visualization: An Introduction

Robert Spence
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Robert W. Hayden
, on

The title is accurate. There is a minor genre of books on this topic within statistics. This book differs in focusing on a broader range of data types. It also gives more attention to psychological and cognitive issues. There is broad advice, but little in the way of instruction on how to make specific displays. Some examples that appear are a map of a subway system and a visual program for keeping track of one’s schedule. The author stresses the cognitive function of mental visual models over communication with others.

And that might account for the principal flaw of the book. At least this reader found most of the diagrams opaque. They may have made sense to the author, but sometimes seem to require more explaining than the data they represent. Alas, that explaining cannot be found here; the diagrams are treated as self-evident. The problem is compounded by many screen shots at such low resolution as to be illegible.

Writers such as Tufte, Cleveland, and Wainer present statistical visualizations in which all irrelevant detail is removed, resulting in a very spare style well suited to mathematics and statistics. The visualizations here are busy in the extreme. The text is useful, but the reader may well need to gather their own set of examples, and work out for themselves how the principles apply to those examples. Professionals working primarily on interface design for a broad audience, say map or web page designers, may find the text useful as it discusses many issues other books on visualization ignore. The book will be less useful to those in the mathematical sciences.

After a few years in industry, Robert W. Hayden ( taught mathematics at colleges and universities for 32 years and statistics for 20 years. In 2005 he retired from full-time classroom work. He now teaches statistics online at and does summer workshops for high school teachers of Advanced Placement Statistics. He contributed the chapter on evaluating introductory statistics textbooks to the MAA's Teaching Statistics.