Beautiful Evidence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2006

Beautiful Evidence is both the title of Edward Tufte?s latest book and an accurate description of the document itself. Like few other mass market publications, BE is lovingly hand-crafted, a physical manifestation of the ideas expressed in its pages; the text and images therein could be about another subject entirely and you might still get the point: ?Words, Numbers, Images - Together? (the title of the book?s fourth chapter).

Case in point. Pages 123 and 124 fold out into a spread depicting Charles Joseph Minard?s famous infographic of the disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia by France. But unlike most magazine and book fold-outs, the page that folds out is cut 1/2 inch narrower than the underlying page so that a) a bit of the page underneath peeks out, providing a visual cue for unfoldability, and b) there?s no difficulty when you go to refold the page with getting it caught in the book?s crease or otherwise undesirably bending/creasing it. The fold-out design is a small thing that the casual reader might not even notice, but it demonstrates the care that went into the production of the book (and perhaps the reason why Tufte took so long in writing/designing it).

The gang at 37signals noticed similar craftsmanship in the writing and presentation:

?What struck me is how you almost never have to hold something in your head while turning the page?he usually finishes his thought within the two pages you can see?and when you flip, it?s something new?that?s an excellent self-imposed constraint??whatever i need to say, i?ll do it here.?? Jason replied, ?Yes, I love that. I noticed that more on this book than others. The image and text is in one spread so when you turn you are turning your attention to a new idea. If you have too much to say than the space allowed then you are probably saying too much?it definitely makes it easier to design the book too?you can design each spread as if it was a standalone poster.?

What I?ve also noticed about Beautiful Evidence is the lack of reviews in mainstream publications; I can?t find a single newspaper or magazine that has published a review. Compare that to the releases of Gladwell?s Blink, Remnick?s Reporting, and Anderson?s The Long Tail, for which reviews started appearing almost everywhere before the books were even available. Those books were written for mass audiences and backed by large publishing companies with ample PR resources and plenty of review copies to go around. In contrast, Beautiful Evidence is self-published by Tufte, which means it?s beautiful, personal, and done just right, but also invisible to the mainstream press. Not that Beautiful Evidence is being ignored ? the blogosphere is talking about it and the Amazon Sales Rank is currently about 600 (which doesn?t count online sales directly from edwardtufte.com) ? but it deserves the consideration of the mainstream press.