With Visual Explanations, Edward R. Tufte adds a third volume to his indispensable series on information display. The first, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which focuses on charts and graphs that display numerical information, virtually defined the field. The second, Envisioning Information, explores similar territory but with an emphasis on maps and cartography. Visual Explanations centers on dynamic data--information that changes over time. (Tufte has described the three books as being about, respectively, "pictures of numbers, pictures of nouns, and pictures of verbs.")
Like its predecessors, Visual Explanations is both intellectually stimulating and beautiful to behold. Tufte, a self-publisher, takes extraordinary pains with design and production. The book ranges through a variety of topics, including the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger (which could have been prevented, Tufte argues, by better information display on the part of the rocket's engineers), magic tricks, a cholera epidemic in 19th-century London, and the principle of using "the smallest effective difference" to display distinctions in data. Throughout, Tufte presents ideas with crystalline clarity and illustrates them in exquisitely rendered samples.