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Playfair's Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521855549
ISBN-10: 0521855543
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Editorial Reviews


"...Playfair's text brings its fascinating author and his time to life, and his beautiful colored charts are functional artistic creations of a high order. These books are the well-spring of modern graphical display, warts and all."
Stephen Stigler, University of Chicago

"From the mind and hand of Playfair sprung - virtually fully formed - the prototypes for most of the statistical graphics in use today. There is no better place to start than at the beginning, and this is the book that lets us see what Playfair was trying to do - and to appreciate just how well he accomplished his goals. No student of information graphics should be without this book."
Stephen M. Kosslyn, Harvard University

"William Playfair's Commercial and Political Atlas and his Statistical Breviary are among the most important works in the entire history of statistical graphics and data visualization. Here we find the origin of the modern graphical forms most widely used today - the pie chart, line graph and bar chart - and Playfair used these with great skill to make his (largely economic) data 'speak to the eyes.' While some of his graphs have been reprinted, often badly, in historical studies, few people have been able to study the very few extant complete copies of these works to see the scope (and beauty) of Playfair's graphical innovations together, and in original context. At least as important, a modern reader will want to read Playfair's words to see how he faced the challenge of presenting his novel charts to his audience around 1800... Spence and Wainer have done a great service to all those interested in visual information display and its history."
Mike Friendly, York University

"William Playfair made breakthrough visualizations that...remain an inspiration in our time. The Introduction gives readers a fascinating portrait of Playfair's life and reminds us of how much of a struggle it is to introduce new ideas. Seeing Playfair's Atlas enables readers to travel back in time, while stimulating our imagination to envision novel dynamic visualizations."
Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland

"It is impossible to imagine modern science without the tools that William Playfair was the first to use. We can never know what impulse, what genius led him to invent new ways of showing the patterns implicit in data, but revisiting his original works will bring us as close to knowing as we are likely to get."
George A. Miller, Princeton University

"Wainer and Spence have done us a great service by making Playfair's two books available again...everyone interested in the theory of statistical graphs should read this introduction...delightful reading."
MAA Reviews, Gudmund Iversen

"Although Edward Tufte and others have noted Playfair's role as the leading originator of modern statistical graphics, access to his work has heretofore been limited. Finally Playfair can speak for himself: Facsimiles of two of his most important works—the 1801 edition of The Commercial and Political Atlas, and The Statistical Breviary of the same year—have now been published in one small, affordable volume. The vision that emerges from Playfair's pages is one of startling clarity and foresight. Even those who have seen samples of his charts...will find new treasures here, all in color and some on foldout pages. The facsimiles are prefaced by a lively introduction in which the editors — [Howard] Wainer and psychologist Ian Spence — give us a glimpse of the work's creator and his times."
American Scientist

"Wainer's books are simply the most entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking books in this area...The Playfair volume is like holding the original in one's hands. And for a remarkably low price."

Book Description

A scientific revolution began at the end of the 18th century with the invention and popularization of the graphic display of data by the remarkable Scot William Playfair. His marvelous Atlas showed how much could be learned if one plotted data at atheoretically and looked for suggestive patterns. Those patterns provide evidence, albeit circumstantial, on which to build new science. This full color reproduction of two of his classic works, with new explanatory material, makes Playfair's wisdom widely available for the first time in two centuries.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (September 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521855543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521855549
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,783,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By John Matlock on October 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This facsimile edition of Playfair's two books reprints the original books from two centuries ago.

In the first, the Commerical and Political Atlas he is (perhaps) the first to apply charts to illustrate financial statistics. He shows charts of the trade balance between Enaland and various other countries. Especially interesting is the chart of trade with North America as it covers the period of the american revolution. This is combined with commentary to explain why the chart looks as it does. Another chart shows the British National Debt from 1688 to 1800.

The Statistical Breviary is a set of statistics on several countries, mostly around Europe. This describes the size, population, navy (Portugal in 1800 had 18 ships from 40 to 80 guns.) and other statistics.

This book is copied from the books in the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Pennsylvania.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of a few key books for anyone seriously interested in visualization or information graphics. In addition to containing Playfair's two most historically significant works, the introduction by the editors adds very significantly to the value of the book. The "introduction" is actually an extremely well researched 32-page essay, which general readers should find entertaining for the surprising biographical information on Playfair's life (for example, his relationships with James Watt and the king of France). Readers with a scholarly interest should also be pleased with the introduction's discussion of the few historical precedents and inspirations for Playfair's creation or inventive use of line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, circle charts, Venn diagrams (before John Venn was born) and what today would be called glyphs. Although it would be nice if the introduction contained more pictures of historically related graphics by Playfair and others, there is a list of references included that readers can track down for related information and graphics, including many articles freely downloadable from Spence's personal website.

Following the introduction are high quality colour reproductions of Playfair's Atlas and Breviary, which are over 200 years old and otherwise only available in rare book collections. Readers can thus own a piece of history with this volume, and reading Playfair's original text yields some insight into his thinking.
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Format: Hardcover
Playfair's Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary is a fascinating insight to the late 18th century. The book is a reproduction (the originals are almost priceless), created by `photocopying' an original page by page complete with defects and marks. This brings the modern reader very close to the original at an affordable price.

Why does this matter? Playfair invented the art of displaying statistical data! Pie Charts, histograms (bar graphs) line graphs and the wise use of colour to highlight trends and variance had their publishing début in this book. Anyone interested in the history of statistics (or in our case the history of scheduling, timelines and Gantt Charts - Google `A Brief History of Scheduling') finds this book at the very origins of their researches.

The modern introduction provides a fascinating insight to the original author and his book. So overall it is a `must have' keepsake for anyone interested in the history of the graphical representation of data. The benefactors and team that made this possible are to be commended on a job well done.

Lynda Bourne & Patrick Weaver
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Format: Hardcover
Playfair's Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary, much beloved by Tufte and others, is a monument in the history of communication with imagery. His relatively simple charts, such as one showing the balance of trade between Norway and England as a time-series dual line plot, look totally modern and familiar to us, but were an incredible novelty in his day. Nor was he limited to linear charts: he worked with bar charts, innovative pie-charts, and combinations of several chart formats.

The text in this complete facsimile edition is, in addition, wonderful to read. If you enjoy reading intellectual strivers of the Enlightenment, as I do, you will enjoy this book thoroughly. He deals with sophisticated issues of data presentation and analysis in language so plain, you wonder how we got into our present mess with statistics being always associated with incomprehensible jargon. He also gets in some zingers against Adam Smith, with whom he had some differences.

Today we are inundated with statistical graphs, so it's hard to accept that in his day, Playfair's innovations were regarded with suspicion! The very informative introduction to this edition describes the intellectual prejudices of his day against graphical display of information. So much for a picture being worth a thousand words - in those days, they preferred the words! Pictures were thought to be unreliable, and subject to all sorts of hidden error, while words could be parsed to the bone to cut away the fatty tissue of falsity. It was Playfair's genius to turn this on its head successfully, although he personally never made much of a go of it financially.
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