The best books to think clearly about data

Who am I?

Tim Harford is the author of nine books, including The Undercover Economist and The Data Detective, and the host of the Cautionary Tales podcast. He presents the BBC Radio programs More or Less, Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy, and How To Vaccinate The World. Tim is a senior columnist for the Financial Times, a member of Nuffield College, Oxford, and the only journalist to have been made an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.


I wrote...

The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics

By Tim Harford,

Book cover of The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics

What is my book about?

Today we think statistics are the enemy, numbers used to mislead and confuse us. That's a mistake, Tim Harford says in The Data Detective. We shouldn't be suspicious of statistics--we need to understand what they mean and how they can improve our lives: they are, at heart, human behavior seen through the prism of numbers and are often "the only way of grasping much of what is going on around us." If we can toss aside our fears and learn to approach them clearly--understanding how our own preconceptions lead us astray--statistics can point to ways we can live better and work smarter.

The books I picked & why

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The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data

By David Spiegelhalter,

Book cover of The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data

Why this book?

Professor David Spiegelhalter is perhaps the greatest living statistical communicator – a superbly clear and reassuring voice about probability, statistics and risk. This is his masterpiece: a highly readable book that starts with the basics and takes the reader through some deep statistical concepts.

The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data

By David Spiegelhalter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Statistics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A statistical national treasure' Jeremy Vine, BBC Radio 2

'Required reading for all politicians, journalists, medics and anyone who tries to influence people (or is influenced) by statistics. A tour de force' Popular Science

Do busier hospitals have higher survival rates? How many trees are there on the planet? Why do old men have big ears? David Spiegelhalter reveals the answers to these and many other questions - questions that can only be addressed using statistical science.

Statistics has played a leading role in our scientific understanding of the world for centuries, yet we are all familiar with the way…


Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez,

Book cover of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Why this book?

After fifteen years thinking and writing about data, this was the book that made me sit up and realise how much I’d been missing. Perez writes with serious fire about injustice, but she also rigorously analyses what is going on. Her argument is that the world has been built with “male” as the default and “female” as a special case – whether this is the design of smartphones or the design of stab-proof vests for police officers. Nowhere is this more true than in the data we collect and the research we conduct – or, all too often, fail to collect and conduct.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By Caroline Criado Perez,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Invisible Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2019 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
Winner of the 2019 Royal Society Science Book Prize

Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.

Celebrated feminist advocate…


Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

By Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

Book cover of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Why this book?

I was lucky enough to meet Hans Rosling several times while he was alive. He was a simply magnificent communicator, a superb advocate for the power of data, a man whose optimism was always realistic and based on reality. This book, written with his daughter-in-law and son, really captures the man. It’s as though Hans is speaking – and what a voice he had.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

By Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Factfulness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.' BARACK OBAMA

'One of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.' BILL GATES

*#1 Sunday Times bestseller * New York Times bestseller * Observer 'best brainy book of the decade' * Irish Times bestseller * Guardian bestseller * audiobook bestseller *

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.

When asked simple questions about global trends - why the world's population is increasing; how…


Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

By Hannah Fry,

Book cover of Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

Why this book?

This is a clever and highly readable guide to the brave new world of algorithms: what they are, how they work, and their strengths and weaknesses. It’s packed with stories and vivid examples, but Dr Fry is a serious mathematician and when it comes to the crunch she is well able to show it with clear and rigorous analysis.

Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

By Hannah Fry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hello World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When it comes to artificial intelligence, we either hear of a paradise on earth or of our imminent extinction. It's time we stand face-to-digital-face with the true powers and limitations of the algorithms that already automate important decisions in healthcare, transportation, crime, and commerce. Hello World is indispensable preparation for the moral quandaries of a world run by code, and with the unfailingly entertaining Hannah Fry as our guide, we'll be discussing these issues long after the last page is turned.


The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life

By Michael Blastland, Andrew Dilnot,

Book cover of The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life

Why this book?

I should declare an interest here: I present a BBC Radio show that Blastland and Dilnot created. This book was effectively my “how to” manual on the way into the studio that they had vacated. It’s a wise and varied guide to the power and the pitfalls of data, poetically written and full of subtle wisdoms.

The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life

By Michael Blastland, Andrew Dilnot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Numbers Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Strunk and White of statistics team up to help the average person navigate the numbers in the news

Drawing on their hugely popular BBC Radio 4 show More or Less, journalist Michael Blastland and internationally known economist Andrew Dilnot delight, amuse, and convert American mathphobes by showing how our everyday experiences make sense of numbers.

The radical premise of The Numbers Game is to show how much we already know and give practical ways to use our knowledge to become cannier consumers of the media. If you've ever wondered what "average" really means, whether the scare stories about cancer…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in statistics, methodology, and algorithms?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about statistics, methodology, and algorithms.

Statistics Explore 16 books about statistics
Methodology Explore 28 books about methodology
Algorithms Explore 21 books about algorithms

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Grit, Thinking, Fast and Slow, and The Worst Journey in the World if you like this list.