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Playfair's Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary
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  • Page extent: 248 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.701 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 314/.09/033
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: HF3501.5 .P58 2005
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Great Britain--Statistics--Early works to 1800
    • Great Britain--Commerce--Early works to 1800
    • Great Britain--Commerce--History--18th century
    • Europe--Statistics--Early works to 1800
    • Statistics--Graphic methods

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521855549 | ISBN-10: 0521855543)

  • Published September 2005

Temporarily unavailable - no date available

$49.99 (P)

A scientific revolution began at the end of the 18th century with the creation and popularization of the graphic display of data by Scottish inventor William Playfair, who introduced the line graph, bar chart, and pie chart into statistics. His remarkable Atlas demonstrated how much could be learned if one plotted data graphically and looked for suggestive patterns to provide evidence for pursuing research. In the Statistical Breviary, Playfair invented the pie chart and expanded upon this concept to facilitate the comparison of the resources of European countries. Playfair's work has great relevance to contemporary science, but finding copies of his original versions is very difficult. This re-issuance of two of his classic works, with new explanatory material, allows access to his wisdom for the first time in two centuries. In full color exactly as Playfair hand-colored the original, this volume includes exact duplicates of the third edition of his classic Atlas as well as the Statistical Breviary. An additional feature is the inclusion of annotations and an extensive biography of the remarkable inventor. Howard Wainer is Distinquished Research Scientist at the National Board of Examiners and Adjunct Professor of Statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has a Ph.D. in Psychometrics from Princeton University. Professor Wainer is the author of fifteen previous books, most recently, Graphic Discovery: A Trout in the Milk and Other Visual Adventures (2005).


Introduction Howard Wainer and Ian Spence; The Commercial and Political Alas; The Statistical Breviary.


"...Playfair's text brings its fascinating author and his time to life, and his beautiful colored charts are functional artistic creations of a high order. These books are the well-spring of modern graphical display, warts and all."
Stephen Stigler, University of Chicago

"From the mind and hand of Playfair sprung - virtually fully formed - the prototypes for most of the statistical graphics in use today. There is no better place to start than at the beginning, and this is the book that lets us see what Playfair was trying to do - and to appreciate just how well he accomplished his goals. No student of information graphics should be without this book."
Stephen M. Kosslyn, Harvard University

"William Playfair's Commercial and Political Atlas and his Statistical Breviary are among the most important works in the entire history of statistical graphics and data visualization. Here we find the origin of the modern graphical forms most widely used today - the pie chart, line graph and bar chart - and Playfair used these with great skill to make his (largely economic) data 'speak to the eyes.' While some of his graphs have been reprinted, often badly, in historical studies, few people have been able to study the very few extant complete copies of these works to see the scope (and beauty) of Playfair's graphical innovations together, and in original context. At least as important, a modern reader will want to read Playfair's words to see how he faced the challenge of presenting his novel charts to his audience around 1800... Spence and Wainer have done a great service to all those interested in visual information display and its history."
Mike Friendly, York University

"William Playfair made breakthrough visualizations that...remain an inspiration in our time. The Introduction gives readers a fascinating portrait of Playfair's life and reminds us of how much of a struggle it is to introduce new ideas. Seeing Playfair's Atlas enables readers to travel back in time, while stimulating our imagination to envision novel dynamic visualizations."
Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland

"It is impossible to imagine modern science without the tools that William Playfair was the first to use. We can never know what impulse, what genius led him to invent new ways of showing the patterns implicit in data, but revisiting his original works will bring us as close to knowing as we are likely to get."
George A. Miller, Princeton University

"Wainer and Spence have done us a great service by making Playfair's two books available again...everyone interested in the theory of statistical graphs should read this introduction...delightful reading."
MAA Reviews, Gudmund Iversen

"Although Edward Tufte and others have noted Playfair's role as the leading originator of modern statistical graphics, access to his work has heretofore been limited. Finally Playfair can speak for himself: Facsimiles of two of his most important works—the 1801 edition of The Commercial and Political Atlas, and The Statistical Breviary of the same year—have now been published in one small, affordable volume. The vision that emerges from Playfair's pages is one of startling clarity and foresight. Even those who have seen samples of his charts...will find new treasures here, all in color and some on foldout pages. The facsimiles are prefaced by a lively introduction in which the editors — [Howard] Wainer and psychologist Ian Spence — give us a glimpse of the work's creator and his times."
American Scientist

"Wainer's books are simply the most entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking books in this area...The Playfair volume is like holding the original in one's hands. And for a remarkably low price."

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