The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia by David McCandless is an essential coffee table book for curious people. While my mother was visiting over her Spring Break, she picked it up and started thumbing through, unaware of who David McCandless was or what the book was about. I had to pry the book from her hands before she left for her flight back, and we must have spent an hour each day she was in Orlando discussing pages of McCandless’s work.
When I say this book is for “curious people,” I truly do mean it. Seth Godin talks about curiosity here and explains that “a fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it” (Source). On the opposite pole, says Godin, are those who are curious. “A curious person explores first and then considers whether or not they want to accept the ramifications” (Source). This isn’t to say a fundamentalist reader wouldn’t enjoy McCandless’s work; however, this is a text that challenges the core beliefs we all hold as “the truth.” McCandless explores science, politics, and religion visually in his book in a way that facilitates learning, questioning, and growing for those of us who are truly curious. I personally took a deeper look into my current belief system and examined the similarities between people who think like me and people who have opposite beliefs (both politically and religiously). It was a wonderful close examination of core values and ideals, and I think all of us should allow our belief system to undergo this kind of analysis and scrutiny. For example, see page 14 and 15 for an examination of government and pages 46 and 47 to compare and contrast ideas about creation.
Of course, McCandless also explores more fun and frivolous topics, and the author proves his sense of humor on nearly every page. For example, check out “Excuse Us: Reasons For Divorce” on page 64. The top reason for men to want a divorce compared with the top reason for women to want a divorce made me laugh out loud.
I am an enormous McCandless supporter and fan. I wrote “In Defense of David McCandless” and “In Defense of Infographics” based upon my analysis of his work. Since I’m obviously biased, I did want to include a few reviews of The Visual Miscellaneum…
Our of 231 ratings and 50 reviews on Goodreads.com, the book earned a score of 3.81 out of 5 stars. 93% of people liked the book (Source). Consider this review: “Over and over again, McCandless attributes the data in his infographics to Google, Wikipedia, or other unreliable and/or unintelligible sources” (Source).
FlowingData writes, “With that said, not every graphic is perfect. There were a few where I wasn’t sure what I was looking at or it took a little while for me to process, but that’s what I was expecting. Many of the graphics are probably experiments in design more than they belong in a Tufte book” (Source).
I agree that this is no Envisioning Information, and remember that McCandless’s goal is always to show the meaning behind the data – to show relationships between facts in a meaningful way – with a few key principles in place. McCandless wants to combine “information” and “design” in a way that is both functional and beautiful:
Form (the beauty, structure, and appearance of a design) meets function (usefulness and usability) on the design spectrum. Information-wise, McCandless emphasizes integrity (accuracy and honesty) as well as interestingness (meaningful and relevant information). I do believe The Visual Miscellaneum is worth reading because the text gives example after example of successful information design. Perfect information design? No. Successful information design? Absolutely.
What amazing reads have you been enjoying lately?