Finished reading: Living in Data by Jer Thorp 📚


As a data person, this book spoke to me deeply. As someone who has worked with collected data many times, it offered a fresh insight into understanding nuances of data, where it has come from, how it is never collected without human involvement, and how biases are embedded into every bit and byte.

Reading this at the same time as The Checklist Manifesto was timely as there is a lot of overlap between the ideas in terms of gathering data.

There were many great examples of “practical visualisations” and real-world projects involving an intersection of art and (data) science. One of the most interesting was a project involving planting genetically identical trees across a wide area, the idea being that “how they grow” reflects the local conditions, and as such they are a proxy for data about each area. It’s a somewhat lost project it seems, but interesting nonetheless.

My very minor nitpick about this one was the very common American-ism of assuming everyone is in the Northern Hemisphere, and as such “winter” and “spring” refer to unique times of the year. It reminded me of the bias inherent in the construction of the ‘north is up’ mental model of the world

(you do have to choose some direction, and any is as good as any other, but it’s a choice).

I loved reading this book, and I will be strongly recommending it to everyone who works with data. I am very happy that I picked up this one - sometimes browsing the shelves randomly works.