For someone who’s burned out on infographics, thanks to the bevy I receive in my email almost daily from corporate America, it’s surprising that the first book review I’m attempting is on, well, a collection of infographics. But that’s how it goes sometimes. You’re enchanted by exactly the thing you proclaim to despise.
It happened a few weeks ago, while browsing Nashville’s Parnassus Books. I was looking for nothing in particular when I noticed the cover* for Gareth Cook’s The Best American Infographics 2015 (BAI) and picked it up. Scanning the pages, it was like the grown-up version of the large, visually-dazzling books I enjoyed as a child: the Where’s Waldo?‘s and Magic Eye‘s of the ’90s book fair world. I used to live for those texts, especially Magic Eye, sitting cross-eyed in the back of our minivan until I either saw the damn Tyrannosaurus Rex I was promised, or developed a substantial migraine. Usually the latter.
BAI is all the entrancing qualities of these books, minus the king-sized bottle of Excedrin you needed to finish them. Divided into four sections–“You”, “Us”, “Material World”, and “Interactive”–Cook has weaved together a menagerie of visual data that leaves you wondering, “How much time did these take to create?” I can spend 20 minutes debating which color socks to wear to work, and yet somebody was able to, in less than a decade, concoct a fascinating graphic of all major New York City restaurants, their chefs, and how they’re all connected in one way or another (“Who Cooked With You?” from New York Magazine December 29, 2014). Clearly these are the same people who dig up obscenely obscure sports statistics, reminding us that, the batter who just hit the home run in the fifth, after striking out in the first, walking in the third, and adjusting his jock strap eight times in the fourth, is the first to do so in Major League postseason history. I love these kinds of people. And at times, I wish I was one. But I’m not, so I’m thankful for this book.
There are moments, however, when some of the infographics were a bit overwhelming, or a little confusing in how to read. (I shamefully skipped over “How Fast Do Ideas Move?”, which outlined how quickly new discoveries have impacted various scientific fields. I also didn’t bother blinking at “Chess Trends,” as I don’t play chess and have no idea what the corresponding first moves even mean.) But overall, I found myself smiling or nodding at the pages.
Particularly enjoyable was “Names By Profession”, which analyzed the most common names found in various fields. [tweet_box design=”default”]Is it any surprise that a majority of male ranchers are named “Leroy”? And that their wives may frequently go by “Judy”?[/tweet_box] How about historians named “Theodore”, or weather men named “Bill”, “Jim”, “Mike”, or “Jeff”? I felt as if I’d stumbled upon Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Brownstein’s secret tool for choosing character names in Portlandia. I was also relieved to find my name, Christopher, absent from any of the career choices–most likely because, over the past ten years, we’ve (I’ve) tried every single one. (Click on the image below to take a closer look for your name.)
There were also those that stunned me, like the Washington Post‘s “What A Soldier’s Arm is Worth” (below), or New York Magazine’s “Women of ISIS”. You spend a lot of time thinking ISIS members resemble the AK-47-toting villains in True Lies, so when you read the tweets from one that sounds like a staff writer for Betches Love This, it throws you for a postmodern loop. Who knew female ISIS members liked pancakes with Nutella on them? So does my girlfriend. Who knew they also used “LOL” and laughing-until-they-cry emojis? So does my girlfriend**.
Overall, the book possesses the rare quality of being one you could leave either on your coffee table, in the waiting room of your office, or on the water tank of your toilet***. It’s chic and thoughtful in design, and provides the reader with a new arsenal of facts to fire at partygoers gathered around the cheese plate:
“Did you know it took fourteen days and 4,815 miles for those grapes to end up next to the gouda?” (See “A Moveable Feast” from National Geographic on page 30)
“Did you know you Honolulu residents spend more than 40 hours per week in traffic?” (See “Commuter Science” from National Geographic on page 44)
“Did you know that the age of Miss America oddly correlates with murders by steam, hot vapors, and hot objects? (See “Spurious Correlations” by Tyler Vigen, page 54)
Personally, I can’t wait for the next baby shower.
For more, check out The Best American Infographics 2015, available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Feature Image: Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Originally posted 2015-10-22 11:00:39.