Books for the class

by Mike Gleicher on August 4, 2017

You are not required to purchase any textbooks for this class.

There will be extensive (for a CS class) readings in this class, however, all of them will be provided online.

There will be several books that we use in class. We will provide you with access to the parts you need online, but if you like to have physical books, you may want to purchase them. In particular, some of the books we will only give you parts of.

This is a list of the books we’ll look at parts of in class – so you can decide if you want to buy one or more of them, and to give some context for when I ask you to read a chapter out of the middle of a book. If you’d rather just be surprised when I point you at a chapter online, read no farther…

All of the required chapters, and a few optional extras, will be available online on Canvas in the Course files section. There’s also a page I made with the complete list.

In this list, I’ll provide links to the books on Amazon. This is not an endorsement of Amazon (see my 2015 rant about online bookstores). They are convenient, and they have pages with good information about the books.

Here are the “main” books of the class, with some commentary on the books so you can decide whether you want to invest in physical copies:

  • Tamara Munzer’s Visualization Analysis and Design. (2015 Discussion) (Amazon purchase)
    This is a “graduate level computer science” textbook – that shares a similar philosophy to how I like to think about (and teach) visualization. It’s really good at giving you a way to think
    about visualization, and some examples of how the ideas are applied. It is of limited use as a reference book, and it doesn’t talk about practical issues at all.
    Over the course of the semester we will read almost all chapters of Munzer’s book.
    You can access the Munzer book online through UW library here.
  • Colin Ware’s Visual Thinking for Design.  (2015 Discussion) (Amazon purchase)
    This is a thin little book (I know several people who read it in one sitting) that discussion the psychology of visual perception and its relationship to visualization and design. It’s not very deep, but its a great place to get started in appreciating how understanding how we see can help us be better designers.
    You can access the Ware book online through the UW library here.

Alberto Cairo‘s two books on visualization are both great. If you wanted one book to “teach you about Vis” I’d probably recommend one of them. For various reasons, they aren’t perfect for class texts. Since not all of the books are relevant to the class, I don’t feel right requiring them. I will provide a few chapters of each over the course of the semester. (academic fair use allows me to provide a small number of chapters of a book). If you’re interested in Vis, I suspect you will like Cairo’s books and want to buy one (and you’ll see what I’m talking about from the chapters you read).

In the Spring 2017 version of class, I gave a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the two books. If you want to buy one book, I’d pick “The Truthful Art” (Amazon link). In fact, if you want to buy one book on visualization, this might by my current favorite.

Eduard Tufte‘s Books on Visualization are probably the most famous books on the subject. They are more art history books, full of historical examples and commentary, then books to help you understand or design visualizations. (see my 2015 discussion). If you are working in the field, you will probably want to own a set (and he’ll sell you a complete set of the 4 books for a reasonable amount of money). Read Cairo first. (Chapter 3 of “The Functional Art” has a great discussion of Tufte). We’ll look at a few chapters from Tufte over the course of the semester.

Books on Graphic Design: You will probably want to read something about graphic design. You could do a whole graduate degree (and more) on the subject, so no one book is going to do it justice. This is a topic you’ll probably want to read more of than we get to do in class.

I really like Robin Williams’ “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” (Amazon) as a quick dose – an hour lesson that helped me a lot (and helps many people a lot). A single hour lesson isn’t going to make anyone a designer, but it’s more useful than you can possible imagine such a small dose being. We’ll actually do the small dose in class (including having you read some of Williams’ book).

I haven’t finished reading “Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty” yet (Amazon), but in principle I like what it is trying to do (get the main points across to geeks like me). The book covers the right topics, but I haven’t decided if I like how it covers it yet. It is available online through the UW library, so you can look it over to see if you like it or not.

Other Books: There are a few other books that we’ll pull a chapter from. I cannot recommend that you buy any of them. None of them have enough useful information in them.

None of the books have very much “practical” stuff (like how to program visualizations, or how to use some tool). These kinds of topics change quickly, so books tend to be out of date by the time I find them. Also, the best resources for these kinds of things tend to be online.

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