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Over the winter break I was travelling in the UK and I came across this little book called “Introducing Statistics: A Graphic Guide” by Ellen Magnello and Borin Van Loon at the gift shop in the Tate Modern museum in London. The book is published in 2009, and Significance magazine already reviewed it here, so I won’t repeat their comments. I hadn’t heard about the book before, so I picked it up, along with a copy of Introducing Post-Modernism (they were 2 for £10, I had to get two, obviously).

I think the book would be more appropriately named “an illustrated guide”, since the images are mostly illustrations of statisticians with speech bubbles instead of graphics that help visualize the concepts being discussed. The most unexpected are the images of the author herself. The first time I came across one of those I was thinking “who is this lady in the pant-suit standing next to Karl Pearson?”. Needless to say, the illustrations sometimes distract from the text, but they’re fun and nicely drawn.

The book does a very good job of describing the differences between vital statistics and mathematical statistics, and what the terms “statistic” and “variability” mean. Therefore, while the audience of the book is not clear, it could be a perfect gift for parents of statisticians who still don’t quite understand what their offspring do. Or really anyone who is interested in statistics, but has no real formal experience with it.

While the book tells the early history of statistics well, the introduction of statistical concepts follow a strange order. It is useful for gaining familiarity with some terminology and simple statistical distributions and tests, but it would be quite difficult to acquire a thorough understanding of these concepts from the book’s introduction. However, I’m guessing this is not the intent of the book, anyway.

The book is part of a series called Introducing Books, which contain about 80 graphical guides from Introducing Aesthetics to Marxism to Wittgenstein. The museum shop where I got the book carried only about 10 of these titles, and I was happy to see that Introducing Statistics was one of them.