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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


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

A scientific revolution began at the end of the eighteenth century with the invention and popularization of the graphic display of data by the remarkable Scot, William Playfair. His marvellous Atlas showed how much could be learned if one plotted data atheoretically and looked for suggestive patterns. Those patterns provide evidence, albeit circumstantial, on which to build new science. Playfair's work has much to teach us, but finding a copy has been almost impossible. Until now. This full colour reproduction of two of his classic works, with new explanatory material, makes Playfair's wisdom widely available for the first time in two centuries.

• This is an exact duplication of the original in full color precisely as Playfair hand colored the original, complete with fold-out charts • It includes, within two covers, both the 3rd edition of Playfair's classic, Atlas, as well as his Statistical Breviary in which the pie chart is invented and expanded upon to brilliantly allow the easy comparison of the resources of European countries • It includes an extensive biography of William Playfair as well as annotations to help place the text into perspective


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


'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'. Spence and Wainer have done a great service to all those interested in visual information display and its history …'. Michael Friendly, York University

'William Playfair made breakthrough visualizations that now seem obvious to us - his printed graphs and charts were innovative in his day and they 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

'With this facsimile edition, William Playfair (1759–1823) is now back onto the stage. Ian Spence and Howard Wainer are to be congratulated for this initiative. Their introduction to this edition does compensate any worshipper of Playfair for the suffering of not possessing an original edition. By their vivid and learned description of Playfair's environment, they illustrate how novel ideas emerge in an interacting scientific community. The recipe often requires a dose of unconventionality. With William Playfair we are more than satisfied.' Dr Antoine de Falguerolles, Université de Toulouse

'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

'Wainer and Spence have done us a great service by making Playfair's two books available again. … The book is delightful reading …'. The Mathematical Association of America Online

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