The Truth About Visualization
Book Review: “The Truthful Art” by Alberto Cairo (2016)
In the second installment of his epic data visualization trilogy, Alberto Cairo has delivered what all of us who work in the field (or aspire to) desperately needed – a shared conscience, based on integrity.
Truth is neither absolute, nor relative.
– Alberto Cairo
As he so eloquently states in Chapter 3, “Truth is neither absolute, nor relative.” Ouch. That sentence hits as hard as a sledgehammer for the visualizer or journalist who hasn’t applied the proper amount of rigor and duty to their craft as they should. Thank you Alberto for calling us out on our less than truthful (i.e. sloppy) work. And, for further demonstrating throughout the book how to approach the entire visualization process from initial thought to final execution.
The Truthful Art’s greatest gift to the reader is not teaching us how to visualize expertly (which it does), but rather giving us all a true North Star for how to think about our work, every day, every time. No matter how skilled or artful we may become as data visualizers, the truth takes no shortcuts or holidays. Alberto reminds us that neither should we, and lays out a framework for how to apply the critical thought and preparation required to communicate data clearly.
More personal than his previous book (and nothing like a college textbook), we are treated to his lighthearted stories that make key points, and also his famously pointed insights (as his students and Twitter followers know so well). Reading through The Truthful Art feels like you’ve been transported to one of Alberto’s extended lectures or a master class on how to convey information with piercing clarity that exudes trust.
Make no mistake, this book is an excellent tour of data science and visualization foundations and techniques, but for us practitioners, it will be recognized as the clarion call for truth and scientific rigor in our visualization work. People deserve no less.
Don’t buy this book to learn how to become a data visualizer.
Read this book to understand how the best ones think.