ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



January 2015



London: The Information Capital by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Do you like maps? Infographics? Data? London? Do you think Edward Tufte is a genius? Then do I have a book for you…

I love maps. I think they are my favorite form of decoration. They are also fascinating to me – the idea that someone figured out and then drew to scale where every little bit of a place is. One of my favorite episodes of the West Wing involves a discussion of how maps can both show data and distort it, and how that has implications for much more than just visual aesthetics.

This book takes all manner of data to create 100 maps and infographics that do, as promised, ‘change how you view the city.’ I was lucky enough to live in London for a year, so some of the maps might mean a bit more to me than someone who has never visited, but I think that a similar book for a city I’ve never visited (say, Mexico City, or Chicago) would still be just as fascinating.

The authors break the maps down into five broad categories: where we are, who we are, where we go, how we’re doing and what we like. In a couple of the sections, the authors take very old maps, and overlay velum with new information so you can view how things (such as the distribution of poverty) have changed. At other times they use sparklines to show how death rates have changed by each of the 32 boroughs and by cause of death. They take a survey that measured four different components of happiness and created a system so that by looking at the eyes, mouth, shading and lines tell how those components all interact, on average, by borough.

Some of the graphics are quirky and, while interesting, are worth a quick read; others I could have spent an hour pouring over. Some are also just stunning; in fact, as a birthday present my husband ordered one of the graphics, and it is being framed as we speak. Like I said, I love maps.

This book is a snapshot; it was published in fall 2014 so the information should be thought of as a glimpse in time; some of the information came from the 2011 census (the data just having been released in 2013). I hope that they will revisit this concept after the 2021 census, creating new but related infographics so we can see how the diverse city is changing.

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