Subtitled “Getting Smarter about Visual Information,” How Charts Lie is a plea for the public to educate itself as to how we are misled everyday but the very tools that are there to make our understanding easier. As the economist Ronald Coase once stated, and then was forever quoted or misattributed to others, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

How Charts Lie is a sublime book. A book that actually makes you smarter, or certainly appear so. Reading it leads to an understanding of how statistics, and in particular charts, are misused to bolster some cases and discredit others. Using real world examples, Mr. Cairo shows how charts are often the unwilling accomplices as data is cherry picked, zoomed too far in on, zoomed too far out on, and data sets that have no business being used together are presented as unquestionable truths because they come in the form of a chart.

This is less a book about how charts themselves lie than how they are misused and how to read charts properly in the first place. A chart only shows what is there is an often-used refrain throughout. How Charts Lie is also a great introduction into some of the most often used charts and how they should, and should not, be used. That it is easy to produce a chart that seems to show that smoking leads to long life spans throughout the world is an example that should give us all pause and adopt “correlation is not causation” as our mantra.

An easy and fun read, How Charts Lie is colorfully illustrated with charts, both good and bad, which make what could be a dry academic text come alive in the mind of the reader. It should be noted that this is my second reading of “How Charts Lie.” The audio edition I originally purchased did not come with the PDF of charts and illustrations as it was supposed to – I’m looking at you This rendered the book, interesting but fatally flawed and led to me also purchasing the latest hardback edition. I am so glad I did as it contains a new afterward written on May 3rd, 2020. This inclusion of how charts have affected the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – he postulates that the CDC’s “flattening the curve” graphic will become one of the most iconic visuals in history – brings added urgency to our quest for better visual data.

In a world where fake news, false equivalency, bad charts, and just plain lies are daily scourges which have real world consequences it is great to see a non-partisan work standing up for facts and truth.

That people have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for data presented visually, means that increasing our visual vocabulary has never been more important. Not adding to the problem and ensuring that our own charts are truthful and accurate is a great place to start.

How Charts Lie is guide to doing that and so much more.