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Understanding USA Paperback – December, 1999


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Paperback, December, 1999
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Rswinc (December 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0967453607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0967453606
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 7 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,469,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, then Understanding USA is one of the most comprehensive reference books ever written. Every page is packed with clear, simple graphics designed to break down massive amounts of information into easily digestible bits--but while the text is certainly informative, it tends to be a bit superficial. Nearly any topic that relates to the U.S. in a broad scale is covered here: financial, social, and political statistics are presented in reasonably clear-cut chapters. As each chapter is color-coded in the top right corner, it's easy to flip to the section of interest. General subjects include war, crime, education, environmental issues, and federal income and expenses. Within each of those areas, you can dive into the numbers of pretty specific queries, such as "How many nuclear weapons have been detonated since 1945?" or "How solvent is the social security program?" The format for all these statistics is reminiscent of USA Today's front page--pretty colors, a large variation in the type of chart use, cute graphics, and an occasional photo of real people. It's easy to understand, and full of interesting--although not always useful--information. Certainly, an understanding of the electoral process is good to have. (And there's a great explanation in the second chapter, but does it matter much that "in 1997, over 8 million people reported difficulty in lifting and carrying"?). As a basic family reference book, or a sourcebook for trivia buffs, this is a fine choice, but you'll need a deeper level of information than this to achieve true understanding. --Jill Lightner

Customer Reviews

This book is a treasure.
David Winograd
Most of the contributors are not subject matter experts in anything but architecture or design.
David Jankowski
There is no table of contents, no index, no page numbers.
Victor Christianson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David Winograd on February 8, 2000
I've never had a head for facts and figures which is why statistics of how many of this or the cost of that always bored the pants off of me regardless of how much I could use the information. This book changed all that for me and is the finest example of data visualization I've ever seen.
Open it to any page and whether the subject is: how much does it cost to raise a child or poverty by race, the information screams at you in easy to understand graphics and brilliantly conceived and executed diagrams.
The information presented is almost encyclopedic in scope exploring complex and facinating issues presented in a variety of manners by a variety of contributors that employ many differing ways of explaining data, but what they all have in common is a high degree of creativity, a wonderful use of color and crystal clarity.
By the end of the book, which can be viewed in any order you choose, you are bound to be not only impressed with the design and beauty, but you're sure to have a clear understanding of just how the United States is constructed and operates at the start of the year 2000.
This book is a treasure.
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53 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Victor Christianson on February 12, 2000
From the promise of the title you expect to be presented with a lucid, logical, intuitive compilation of interesting information. You will be disappointed! The promise is empty. Not that the graphics aren't excellent, but the dis-organization of the book throws it all off. There is no table of contents, no index, no page numbers. There are about a dozen sub-tables of contents buried within the book, but they are a mess as well. Each is organized by contributor, with endlessly ovelapping topics. While it might be fun to flip through this from time to time, if you seek to look anything up, you may have to turn each of the 300 pages to find it. And heaven forbid you want to mark/refer to an interesting page - without pages numbers it's rather difficult. I think they should recall all of these and hire Don Nornam or Ed Tufte to create a thoughtful, intuitive means of knowing what's in here and how to find it. What were these guys thinking? Excellent idea, terrible implementation.
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65 of 79 people found the following review helpful By David Jankowski on February 21, 2000
Verified Purchase
This book intrigued me when I first saw it in the store. I always have an almanac handy, and I was hoping that this book might prove to be a nice supplement. I was wrong, and my almanac has nothing to worry about. Here's why:
1. The book is poorly organized. The book is organized by contributor, and in many cases there is no logic behind the grouping of any particular contributor's topics. Don't bother looking for an index or a helpful table of contents.
2. Why did I pay for this book? The preface goes to great lengths to emphasize that this information should be free. So why isn't it? With all of the corporate underwriters attached to this book it should be given away.
3. Somebody call an editor. The number of mistakes in this book is atrocious.
4. The book appears to be less about information and more about the egos of the contributors. Most of the contributors are not subject matter experts in anything but architecture or design. This makes the commentary that accompanies the pretty pictures seem uninformed. Which leads me to my final beef ...
5. There is a major bias prevalent throughout this book. The beauty of an almanac is that it presents the facts and lets you draw your own conclusions. Unfortunately, the left-leaning contributors of this book can't help but take the opportunity to advance their social agenda.
Save your money and buy a copy of The World Almanac.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Cooper Lang on March 12, 2001
In Wurman's InformationAnxiety2, he not so sheepishly plugs UNDERSTANDING with paragraphs such as,
"Not only is this a valuable tool in a civics class or history class or economics class or social studies class, but it is the perfect demonstration for educators on the different ways in which people learn: visually, audibly and tangibly."
Too bad Wurman is grossly incorrect. The data in this book is difficult to decipher and understand. One must truly work with the book to derive the benefits of the data presented--which goes against the grain of the books mission.
Wurman tells the story of the publication of Understanding in InformationAnxiety2, indicating that UNDERSTANDING was done in fast fashion.
"It was printed in December 1999-nine months after it was an idea that everyone said was impossible. Would it have been nice to have had page numbers? Yep. A table of contents? Yep. An index? Yep. But, I got it done. That's the art of the possible."
Too bad the book is next to impossible to use.
Sadly, too, the complimentary web site is a real mess in terms of visibility (can't resize the text and must open more and more widows to get the real value of the site) and usability.
It's a shame. The information presented in the book and on the site is incredibly valuable and helpful. Prepare to work to get it though.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2003
Do you like boring garphics? Or, do you prefer to see only labels in a chart cause you have difficulty understanding that a picture of a young teenager probably means "young teenagers" and that a picture of an old person means "old people"? If your answer is yes, this book isn't for you. Please understand that this book isn't either "good" or "bad," everything will depend of what you like.
I bave been in many countries and I have never seen a book so well done: it is beautiful, creative and makes "data" to become alive and interesting. As far as having difficulty in understanding the graphics, I found that there were only two chapters (out of 13) that were a little more difficult to understand. These chapters, in my opinion, were not important ones (but the graphics look amazing). It will be great if there could have a little preview of this book at amazon.com so people could have a better idea how it looks inside. I am sure that many people would be deligthed to have this book at home as it is one of the best book done about this subject worldwide!
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