Top Ten Best Data Visualization Books

The exponentially growing and complex data of this era requires powerful tools to comprehend the data, where we need books to understand data visualization. The ability to convey insights, critically and effectively, from complex datasets has become an important skill across various disciplines.

Data visualization, as an art and as a science, acts as a bridge between raw data and human comprehension and understanding. It offers to unlock patterns, trends and stories hidden within the mysterious numbers. Today, we delve into the realm of data visualization, a field that encompasses not only the craft of creating visually engaging graphics but also the science of encoding information for decision making and general understanding. Within this context, let us embark on a journey to explore 10 best data visualization books, each offering a unique perspective, expertise and guidance. These books are helpful for both beginners and experts to stay updated with latest techniques and best practices for the data visualization.

Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few (Get this Book)

Dashboards usually consist of charts, graphs, tables among other visual elements to represent data meaningfully. Using Dashboards can be tricky. With their extensive use in sales, marketing, executive decision making, public safety and security, environmental modeling, election poll analysis, social media assessments and infrastructure modeling, to name a few examples, it has become very important to have a good grasp on the subject. Stephen Few comes for rescue in this situation. With his book, Few focuses on minimalist approach to design Dashboards, making it very suitable for the beginners of the subject. His methodology covers all basics including visual perception, graph construction and integrations of multiple graphics in single display. Few also covers the topic of interactivity in dashboard designs with the proper use of colors and layouts. He illustrates all of his topic with examples, helping the reader experience the consequences first hand. These numerous real-world examples and case studies are one of the biggest strengths of this work. Both good and bad practices are provided to feed the imagination of the learner.

Although considered one of the best guides on the topic, with simpler, softer and updated tone, the latest edition of the book was released in 2012.  In the ever evolving field of data visualization, modern graphic designers may find it out of date. However, the user centric approach and, the minimalist designs of the book still let it take the lead in the field of the best data visualization books.

The Functional Art by Alberto Cairo (Get this Book)

From the series of “Voices that Matter”, this book explores the world of information graphics and data visualization. From the pen of a renowned and experienced information graphic designer and educator; Alberto Cairo, this book is a perfect example of his skills. His engaging writing style make several intense and complex concepts approachable and easy.

As the name suggests, the book perfectly intersects the art and functionality in data visualization. Cairo makes a point through the book: data visualization can serve both aesthetic and functional purposes. Thus, the data should be aesthetically pleasing but should also serve the purpose of helping people better understand complex information. Perfectly designed as part of the series, the book is widely accessible and approachable for the beginners of the subject. Those with some prior knowledge of data visualization can use it as a guide to polish their skills. Real life examples from the domains of journalism, business and science illustrate the power of data visualization in storytelling, informed decision making and driving change. This valuable resource can help any journalist, designer, analysist or a visual storytelling enthusiast to bring their A-game in the field. The writer’s expertise, his practical examples and his thoughtful exploration of art and science of data visualization definitely makes this a compelling read.

Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic (Get this Book)

Specially designed for business professionals seeking to improve data visualization skills, this book is among the most read books on the topic. The writer, being a former Google employee and a celebrated expert in the field of data visualization combines her practical skills with an engaging style to make this a popular read. The gradual and logical progression of topics make it easier for readers to grasp the complexities of the subject.

The book has two strengths. Firstly, the book focuses on the storytelling approach of data visualization, leading it beyond just displaying numbers. Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic argues that the data should engage audience and lead them to actionable insights. The second notable feature of the book correlates with the first one. The book encourages designers to consider the perspective of their audience by tailoring their visualizations to meet the specific needs and expectations of the viewers. The importance of context, simplicity and clarity is highlighted in this user-centric approach. Moreover, Knaflic elaborates the best practices for designing visualizations that are both aesthetically pleasing and easy to interpret for viewers.

With illustrations, examples, case studies and ‘before and after’ of data visualizations, the book is a valuable resource for turning data into impactful narratives. These narratives can drive decision-making and understanding in the business world.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte (Get this Book)

Earning fourth position on the list is this renowned work of Edward Tufte. The writer himself is a statistician and a data visualization expert, who brings more knowledge and expertise to this book. Considered as one of the ‘Old Testament’ on data visualization, this book focuses on visualizing data through simplicity, clarity and precision to enable readers to extract meaningful insights from complex datasets. Tufte’s emphasis on the visual integrity of data representations is another big influence one can see in this book.

The strength of the book is expanded, elaborate and relevant content. The second edition includes new examples and case studies than the first one, and thus, is highly recommended. The book is divided into two parts by the author. Part one of the book; “Graphical Practice” includes chapters on Graphical excellence, Graphical integrity and Sources of Graphical integrity and sophistication. The second part; “Theory of Data Graphics” has a total of six chapters including Data-Ink and Graphical Redesign, Chartjunk, Data-Ink Maximization and Graphical Design, Multifunctioning Graphical Elements, Data Density and Small Multiples, and Aesthetics and Techniques in Data Graphical Design. The Epilogue has an interesting portion on Designs for the Display of Information. Along with this very intriguing organization of chapters, Edward Tufte has also showcased a wide range of visualizations, from historical charts to contemporary graphics. By critiquing these examples, Edward Tufte has provided readers with valuable insights into the dos and don’ts of data visualization.

The Big Book of Dashboards by Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer, and Andy Cotgreave (Get this Book)

A comprehensive guide to the world of data dashboards, this book focuses on practical, real-world applications in different industries and departments, including transportations, finance, human resource, health care, marketing, sports, and customer service etcetera. The book provides 28 diverse, detailed and definitive dashboard examples, each based on a specific business setting, such as customer’s feedback, sales performance, and financial analysis. If you do not know what your customer means when he asks for a ‘doper’ dashboard, you can consult the book on the section that is entirely devoted to practical and psychological needs of your work. With theory and evidence based research, this is a great asset to have on your side.

How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter about Visual Information by Alberto Cairo (Get this book)

Another book to grace this list by Alberto Cairo, How Charts lie is an interesting way of knowing the evils of visual information. Coming from an expert himself, the book shows how visual data is used to manipulate the audience. In the growing age of social media, it is easier to use visuals to propagate a message, but Cairo is on a mission to help people decipher it properly. He emphasis the importance of critical thinking and data literacy by giving multiple examples from a wide range of topics including, global development, US elections, movie industry, hurricanes, public health, evolutionary history, and climate change.

The central theme of the book is that charts, when presented improperly, can distort and mislead the truth. The common pitfalls and fallacies of data visualization that include misleading scales and statistics, cherry-picking data and employing visual superfluities that change the perception of data are discussed in detail.

Along showcasing the issues, Cairo also provides remedies. He offers practical advice on creating ethical and effective charts and graphs through proper labeling, axis scaling and context in data visualization. He not only prepares the readers to become critical consumers but also more proficient producers of visual information. The inclusion of illustration in this edition further enhances the effectiveness of the book. One can see first hand how various visualization techniques can be used and misused. Alberto Cairo’s engaging and informative style makes both of his books stand out in the list of best data visualization books.

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics by Dona M. Wong (Get this Book)

The title of the book may remind you Leonardo Di ’Caprio’s iconic role in the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”. From the author Dona M. Wong, a former graphic director at The Wall Street Journal and a student of Edward Tufte, this book will give you all the tips and tricks necessary to engage your customer in a successful negotiation. Laced with examples from the The Wall Street Journal, Wong highlights the way information graphics are used by news articles, journalists and reporters. The book will help you learn the most effective ways to persuade the decision makers when you have mere minutes of their time. The mini workshops with illustrations included in the book will help you choose the right type of charts for different types of data. Moreover, it covers various aspects of design, including labeling, layout and color choices to make your information graphics more intriguing, interesting and informative for the viewer. The book is suitable for students, learners and engagers of data visualization, journalism or business communication. Wong addresses the challenges with complex data and ways to effectively handle those challenges. This trick is helpful to present complex data into seemingly simple way for a broader audience.

Data Visualization: A Practical Introduction by Kieran Healy (Get this Book)

In books of data visualization, if you are looking for a straightforward textbook for Data Visualization, this is the right place to find it. Kieran Healy has made sure that the principles, theory and practical of data visualization are provided in a simple and accessible language. With a total of 8 chapters, every chapter focuses on a step forward in evolving your expertise in the subject. The book covers several important topics. The book starts with laying the foundation of data visualization, explaining its importance and practicality. In the second chapter, Healy introduces various tools and software for data visualization, with p particular focus on R. Considered one of the biggest strengths of the book, the author teaches how to use R to create a wide range of visualizations, from basic scatter plots to more advanced ones like heatmaps and network graphs. Other chapters teach the readers important concepts like drawing maps, refining plots, using Aesthetics to your benefit and making plots. It covers other essential topics such as data exploration, data cleaning, and use of color and design principles.

The book manages to balance out the theoretical knowledge with practical skills. It is a valuable resource to understand the principles of data visualization while having practical and accessible tools to create one’s own visualizations.

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web by Scott Murray (Get this Book)

If you wish to create dynamic and interactive data visualization for web applications, this is an invaluable source for you in form of books. Authored by Scott Mu, this book has a comprehensive and impressive introduction to using D3.js. D3 is a popular JavaScript library for data visualization. It is known for its flexibility and versatility in creating different custom visualizations.

Ideal for beginners of coding, web programing, data analyzing and data journalism, this book teaches important technical web programming skills for HTML, CSS, JavaScript and SVG. The writer starts with the basics, keeping the book accessible for beginners, and gradually advances to more complex concepts.

Murray introduces data preparation and manipulation for working with real-world datasets. These topics ensure that the reader knows how to load data from several sources, clean it, transform it and then integrate it into their visualizations effectively. The core focus of the book is on D3.js, as the name suggests, where Murray teaches a wide range of visualizations, including bar charts, line charts, maps, scatter plots and much more. The writer heavily focuses on interactivity. He guides his students through adding interactive elements such as tooltips, smooth transitions, and user interactions.

Scott Murray’s clear explanations, practical examples and focus on D3 will surely help you create compelling and interactive data-driven web visualizations.

Better Data Visualizations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks by Jonathan Schwabish (Get this Book)

Do not be offended by being called “wonks”, Jonathan Schwabish means it with all admiration and a little wit. Written by an economist and data visualization expert, this book is among the highest rated in the subject on several platforms. Considered as a “dictionary” for data visualizations, the book deals with hows and whys of data visualizations with a more nuanced approach. Divided into three parts, the book focuses on important topics in each. The first part deals with visual processing, guidelines for chart designs; Part two has a thorough section of chart and graph types which is another favorite of the readers. Part Three covers Data Visualization Style guides with case studies to improve charts that is considered one of the most thorough and well written one on the topic. The writer has also added a chapter on better table designs, to meet the appropriate level of visualizing.

Some keen readers have noticed some minor irregularities in communication, yet the book sits as one of the most read, understood and effective books on the subject.

This concludes our list of books on data visualization, Happy Learning!

This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission for purchases made through links. I will only recommend products that I have personally used!

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