More than 100 years ago, U.S. President James Garfield predicted that the compilation of detailed statistics would ultimately provide us with a new way to view history. In the 1900s, America did indeed live up Garfield's prophesy by studiously measuring everything from population growth and occupational inclination to crime trends and food fads. The First Measured Century, produced in conjunction with a PBS special of the same name, expertly catalogs and analyzes the "numerical thinking" that has subsequently taken place.
Authors Theodore Caplow, Louis Hicks, and TV host Ben Wattenberg are all accomplished social scientists who have collectively produced dozens of books, articles, and television shows on the trends these statistics amplify. Here, they compile statistics derived from government sources and independent polling data into sections on work, education, family, religion, money, politics, business, and more. Each is further divided into single-page essays that begin with one overarching theme ("The concentration of working women in a few occupations diminished as they found employment throughout the economy") and conclude with charts and graphs that underscore the point (in this case, precisely how women left farming, domestic, and factory work from 1900 through 1998 for clerical and sales jobs, teaching, nursing, and other professional occupations). All in all, a highly informative--and entertaining--read. --Howard Rothman [via]