Book Review

Beautiful Visualization – Book Review

I have finished reading Beautiful Visualization a few weeks ago. It does have a lot interesting content, so I expect the review to take a while.

The book is composed of essays in visualization. Some are awesome – they are not only interesting, but can also teach a lot about the field. Others are just a waste of space. I'll comment on what I found interesting.

Chapter 1. On Beauty

Mostly generic, with an interesting section on the table of elements and some useful advice.

Chapter 2. Once Upon a Stacked Time Series

Useful advice on questions that can be answered with visualization and data sources, as well as an interesting practical data visualization.

Chapter 3. Wordle

Talks about Wordle, the word collage system, and some of the techniques that went into building it. Nice.

Chapter 4. Color: The Cinderella of Data Visualization

Lots of useful examples and very useful advice. Includes  some R code.

Chapter 6. Flight Patterns: A Deep Dive

Talks about Flight Patterns, a beautiful visualization of flight data.

Flight Patterns
Flight Patterns

Chapter 7. Your Choices Reveal Who You Are: Mining and Visualizing Social Patterns

Interesting view of social patterns – which I had no idea began in 1930. This leads to a cool visualization of book purchases on Amazon, for technical and political books. The way the book clusters interconnect shows quite a bit about the content.

Chapter 8. Visualizing the U.S Senate Social Graph (1991-2009)

Very good. Shows how the senate is divided between the parties using the votes as the links between senators. Lots of info on how it was built.

Chapter 9. The Big Picture: Search and Discovery

Graphics of queries for Yellow Page and the Netflix data set. Nice, with surprising conclusions and some insight on how to replicate.

Chapter 10. Finding Beautiful Insights in the Chaos of Social Network Visualizations

About SocialAction – a tool to generate social visualizations.

Chapter 11. Beautiful History: Visualizing Wikipedia

Several neat visualizations of Wikipedia edits.

Chapter 13. The Design of “X by Y”

A presentation of a visualization project of all entries to the Prix Ars Electronica. Some cool visualizations.

Chapter 15. This was 1994: Data Exploration with the NYTimes Article Search API

Nice view of the Times API – and some awesome visualization using the data.

Chapter 16. A Day in the Life of the New York Times

Neat visualization of the NY Times readers

Frame of NY Times log animation
Frame of NY Times log animation

, and a great view into the process of creating it.

Chapter 19. Animation for Visualization: Opportunities and Drawbacks

A big view into various animation possibilities on visualization, and how well they work. Plenty of advice and examples.


Overall, I strongly recommend the book for anyone who is interested in visualization. There is plenty to see and learn in this book.

Note: Some people complained about the images in the PDF version being too small. I read the book on an iPad, using Kindle (Mobi format), and you can zoom into images by double-tapping them (you can them zoom and scroll). They looked fine.

Book Review

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web – Book Review

I've just finished reading Interactive Data Visualization for the Web (An Introduction to Designing with D3), by Scott Murray. This book covers the basics on how to use D3, a library to make it easier to do data visualizations (see the very cool gallery for an example of what has been done with it).

This is Early Release Version 3 of the book, so there may be changes in the finished release.

The book covers the basics on how to use D3 – starting with a bar chart all the way to how to convert shapefiles and display maps.

One thing I found interesting is how similar using D3 feels to JQuery. They very much are helper libraries. I expected D3 to be more of a delphi component – point it to the data, set a few parameters and it goes from there. But in reality, there will be a quite bit of code for anything you do. The advantage is that it is very, very flexible.

The style of the book is quite light, and it is targeted to all users who want to do data visualization – not just programmers. Thus, there is a quick introduction to a lot of basics, including the Web, HTML, DOM, CSS, Javascript and SVG. It seems feasible that a dedicated reader would be able to follow it without much programming experience.

Overall, I liked it. The examples all work and are useful, and it took me about 4 hours to read it, including trying out all examples and following some of the links to useful resources.