“Do you have something I can press on?”
I was in a meeting, but we got shifted out of the boardroom and I had to make notes on my printout on my lap. A colleague passed me Information Is Beautiful.
I have wanted this book for many years and I’ve just not bought it. I spent the rest of the meeting trying surreptiously to page through it. At the end I just gave up and asked whether I could borrow the book until our next meeting.
So I spent a happy afternoon over Easter weekend paging through this book and exclaiming some random bits of information to whoever walked into the room. But you can’t. You simply cannot randomly quote from this extraordinary book. This is a book you have to see and spend time with.
McCandless, in an effort to better see and understand the information he felt swamped by, decided to filter what he was finding on the net through a visual net – or several different kinds of visual nets. The result is a colourful and fascinating book that presents a miscellany of ideas and facts as charts and graphs and pictograms.
Some of these are quite incomprehensible to me – either because of the complexity of the visual presentation, or because the information was of no interest to me. McCandless made pictures form the things that interest him – “subjects that sprang from my own curiosity and ignorance – the questions I wanted answering”. And since none of us wonders about the same things, a 100% overlap in interest is unlikely.
But that in no way detracts. Every page is quite beautiful, made so made so by a particular kind of mind, that sees and processes in a specific way.
One segmented polar grid (I know it’s called that, because there’s a page with a graphic presentation of Types Of Information Visualization), I was particularly drawn to was “Being Defensive”.
Being often completely puzzled by my own or other people’s behaviours, I have on numerous read about psychological defence mechanisms to make slightly better sense of things. McCandless puts them all together in a very interesting way that gave me a new – and fuller – perspective on the matter.
Some of the information is utterly completely useless to me (useless, but never dull). Other information is so useful, you want to tear out the page and stick on the fridge or the notice board. Like this one, which gives you a breakdown of how to construct salad dressings.
I’ll have to return the book next week, but I’m so glad I’ve had a short sojourn into the McCandless mind. There’s lots more on his website – and some of the graphics are interactive. Go and check out Novels Everyone Should Read and Non-fiction Books Everyone Should Read.