2018 Summer Reading List for the Health and Healthcare Data Geek

I’ve been thinking of including a book (or two) about using maps to display data on my 2018 Summer Reading List, but it was my old pup Juno who sent me the sign I needed as to which book(s). Now I just have to wait for her to finish the chapter she was reading (before she decided to take a nap), so I can get this one back. (Yes, she really is that smart: she even has a tag, given her by my brother Tim, that reads, “I’m the smart one.” Indeed.)

Cartographer’s Toolkit: Colors, Typography, Patterns

Gretchen N. Peterson

More and more often we work with clients who are enamored of maps — regardless of whether or not it makes any sense to include them on their dashboards, reports, or infographics.

Maps are the “cool” feature that everyone seems to want. Unfortunately, they are often reduced to mere filtering and navigation tools (click your state and go to another page of data) rather than helping viewers gain insights into important information (rates of disease prevalence in a country, state, or city; access to healthcare; and the like). Additionally, when maps display this type of important data, they are often used incorrectly.

This just won’t do. We need to endeavor to create really great maps that impart important insights. Peterson’s Cartographer’s Toolkit is a great first step to learning how.

It includes Choropleth and heat maps and numerous historical references and examples, making it more engaging and instructive than you might imagine. I recommend adding this gem to your reference library. I will warn you, though: if your pup’s anything like my Juno, you may have to wrestle it back from her hot little paws.

Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users (2nd edition)

Cynthia A. Brewer

If you are creating maps, this book is a must-have. As the title clearly signals, designing BETTER maps is the goal, and this comprehensive guide helps achieve it by teaching us to create maps that communicate geospatial data effectively.

Expert cartographer Cynthia Brewer offers clear, easy-to-understand information and direction about the basics of good cartography, including layout, design, scales, projections, color selection, font choices, and symbol placement. As an accompaniment to all of this information, Cynthia Brewer also makes a color selector available for public use at ColorBrewer2.org. I highly recommend adding this book to your reference library.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

Steven Johnson

Back in December, I wrote a newsletter about The Ghost Map and how much I loved it. If you missed that newsletter, or have just been procrastinating about reading this book, now’s the time!

Johnson writes about the cholera epidemic and Dr. John Snow in a thoroughly engaging and compelling way. He goes beyond the immediate details of the 1854 epidemic to describe in vivid detail related subjects like the history of toilets, the upgrading of London’s sewer system, the importance of population density for a disease that travels in human excrement, and the positive as well as the negative aspects of urbanization itself. Never before Victorian London existed, Johnson teaches the reader, had 2.4 million primates of any species lived together within a 30-mile perimeter. The conditions he describes stagger the imagination. This is the stuff of a Dickens novel.

Johnson also describes how Snow used some of the earliest Geographic Information System (GIS) methods to support his arguments. It seems only fitting that I should include his book on a list that includes two other books about displaying data using maps!

Design Matters with Debbie Millman

I am a podcast junkie, and one of my very favorite podcasts is Design Matters with Debbie Millman. True, this podcast is not directly on point for data visualization topics.

That said, and as described on the website, it is “The world’s first podcast about design and an inquiry into the broader world of creative culture through wide-ranging conversations with designers, writers, artists, curators, musicians, and other luminaries of contemporary thought.” Whew. That’s a mouthful, but it’s true. And I love Debbie’s tagline: “And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.” YES!

Just yesterday, on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Boston, I listened to an interview Debbie did with artist and graphic designer Paula Scher about her design career — a career that has spanned everything from album covers to the iconic Citibank logo. I was so mesmerized that I actually hit replay and listened to it again and then again (I admit to being more than a little bit obsessed). Check it out and, just for fun, check out Paula’s book of her map paintings and artwork. Cool stuff!

Here’s the bottom line: if you have a bit of down time this summer (or any time), I highly recommend these interesting reads. Taken together, they will broaden and deepen your thinking and help you gain an even fuller appreciation of how to display data (correctly!) using maps.

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