I have finally been able to hang on to a copy of Information Is Beautiful by David McCandless, published by Collins, long enough to finish it. I have already wrapped and given it away three times in the last couple of months and each time it was v. annoying to pass it on to the very lucky, if I say so myself, giftee.
It is a fascinating visual guide to the world using stunning infographics and data visualisations, swinging from the sublime to the ridiculous by way of the trivial and the frightening, but always carefully and cleverly explained in terms of context and relationships: there are mindbending and very beautiful graphs that explain the types and incidence of male facial hair, the world’s military spending, women’s fashion colours by decade, the relationships of Middle Eastern countries, the most popular girls names in the USA…
Sometimes you just have to sit and look at a particular page for a while, then suddenly, you get it – a bit like those optical illusion pictures that were so popular back in the day. Here is an excellent video of McCandless, an award-winning journalist, explaining his theory of information overload and introducing his world of beautiful information:
The other book I was dipping into this weekend was Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection by Simon Winchester (yes, that Simon Winchester), published by Black Dog & Leventhal. I will read anything by Mr Winchester, don’t care if the book is about maps, a mad dictionary-contributor, Krakatoa, an entire ocean or the conundrum that was Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson. The fact this is about beautiful, scary, fascinating skulls is just the icing on the cake really – gorgeous if macabre icing it is too: the photography by Nick Mann is truly stunning.
Using the skull collection of Alan Dudley, whose passion has led him to posses one of the most extensive and impressive collections of skulls in the world, Winchester explores the science and pseudoscience of skulls, their use in art, religion and the politics of power and death. Also, Winchester describes the most interesting features, behaviors, diets and taxonomy of each unusual specimen – some are unusual animals, really freaky, full stop, some are only unusual ‘cos you aren’t used to seeing them this, well, architecturally bare…like these porpoise skulls:
The publishers say:“brilliant storytelling combines with beautiful imagery and the result is a near-perfect survey designed for browsing, amusement, the indulgence of macabre fascination and, of course, learning.”
Couldn’t agree more and am going to buy one for myself (in a fit of macabre fascination indulgence).