Data Points: Books

19 Jun 2017

Data Points Book

Each month, I bring you a series of interesting resources in data science and data-science-adjacent fields. This month, I’ll cover some books that have shaped me as a data scientist, a computer scientist, and a generally scientifically minded individual.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Edward Tufte is a pioneer in the field of data and process visualization. If you aren’t familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and watch this 4-minute video which consists of excerpts of one of his talks. It will give you a glimpse at his winning combination of sharp wit, analytical eye, and profound thought process.

To get a real glimpse at his genius, however, requires more than 4 minutes’ time. His first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, still stands as an excellent exposition in the field of data visualization. It is a tour of charts and graphs from the very first examples to modern print and web visualizations. Even if you’re experienced in the field, you will certainly find a lot to learn and to keep your interest. If you can’t make the time to read the whole thing, you can download my notes on the book here.

The Algorithm Design Manual

The second book, The Algorithm Design Manual by Steven Skiena, in my list of essentials is a pure computer science textbook. I personally studied CS in my undergrad and graduate studies, and this book still did wonders for me. First, it brought up points that I’d never considered before. And second, it put all of my knowledge of the field into a beautifully connected framework that brought my understanding to a deeper level than I’ve ever had.

There are many people who work with data who don’t need the level of technical detail provided in this book. However, there are far more who do. If you clean, prepare, aggregate, explore, visualize, or monitor data algorithmically, then knowing how to efficiently accomplish the messy scenarios that can arise is vital.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

I come back to this book more than any other document I’ve encountered in my life. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is a collection of short stories, talks, and essays about the delightful scientist Richard Feynman. This book has had a lasting impact on my worldview, and I repeatedly revisit it to remind myself of the kind of scientist and the kind of person I want to be. Each chapter stands completely on its own. I highly recommend the following chapters

  • 1. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
  • 3. Los Alamos from Below
  • 6. The Value of Science
  • 7. Richard P. Feynman’s Minority Report to the Space Shuttle Challenger Inquiry
  • 10. Cargo Cult Science: Some Remarks on Science, Psuedoscience, and Learning How to Not Fool Yourself

The last one might look familiar to frequent readers of this blog, since it was the topic of my last post. Every chapter in the book has gems of wisdom in it, but the ones I’ve recommended here always speak to me on a deep level, and the more people who read them, the better place the world will be in my opinion.

comments powered by Disqus