Here at the University Book Shop we do like a good book about information – the way we use it, manipulate it, learn from it. Seems like book buyers do to: last years Information Is Beautiful by David McCandless is still very popular. I have just been look ing at the latest offering in this fast-expanding genre:
Facts Are Sacred by Simon Rogers (Faber & Faber), is a little different from McCandless’ book, although, as you’ll see on the cover, he gives it a nice shout-out. There are similar entertaining and informative infographics and innovative ways of presenting data but also discussions of how the raw data is obtained, how it is converted from pages of dry figures into attention grabbing graphics and why such information even matters.
Rogers is in a unique position to unpack all this for us: the editor of guardian.co.uk/data, the Guardian’s award-winning datalog, he was closely involved with the Guardian’s groundbreaking decision to crowdsource 450,000 MP expenses records, as well as the organisation’s coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq ‘Wikileaks’ war logs. In 2010, Rogers received a special commendation from the Royal Statistical Society in its awards for journalistic excellence. In 2011, the datalog won the Newspaper Awards prize for Best Use of New Media, the Knight Batten award for innovation in journalism and the Online Media award for innovation in journalism.
The datalog publishes and analyses seemingly benign data – released under the auspices of transparency – to bring its readers astonishing revelations about the way we live now. It reveals how data has changed our world and what we can learn from it. In this thought-provoking book, the most telling findings from the blog are brought together to give us the facts and figures behind the headlines, beautifully illustrated with extensive data visualisations. Ground-breaking and fascinating, it celebrates a resource that has pushed the boundaries of modern journalism and is a manifesto for a new way of seeing things.
I liked Rogers’ passion for why this onslaught of information matters, his conviction that in the details lie the important trends and significant realities that shape the world and our lives. He has a journalist’s nose for important stories and while appreciating the elegant and exciting new ways of presenting the data, he is driven by what the data tells and shows us. It is fascinating how much of the really interesting stuff is buried deep within mountains of seemingly bland and boring data – almost like it is being wilfully obscured – and the hard work it takes to extract these wee kernals of truth. For those of us who like a good English grammar use/abuse debate the issue of data vs. datum, plural vs. singular, english use vs. latin original is also addressed – as you can see from the response when the datalog put it out there for discussion, people feel very strongly about this.
On Wednesday the 15th at 9.30am, one of our booksellers will be discussing the book on Radio Dunedin (99.8FM).