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Review: Scott Christianson, 100 Diagrams That Changed the World

I recently came across this book that claims to collect the 100 most important diagrams in the history of mankind. It’s a good collection, with many wonderful examples, though it has its flaws.

To get the main issue out of the way: the title is misleading. The selection in the book is not based on the quality of the diagrams, but rather of the invention or cultural shift they are associated with. I didn’t bother to count, but there are many examples of diagrams in the book that, by themselves, are really not interesting, but which are attached to important: the mobile phone, Apple computers, cotton gin, and the camera obscura, to name just a few.

Having said that, however, there is still a lot of value in Scott Christianson's 100 Diagrams That Changed the World: From the Earliest Cave Paintings to the Innovation of the iPod. There are many interesting examples of diagrams where the actual diagrams are the innovation, or where the innovation would not have happened with the diagram: the flow chart, the periodic table, line and bar charts, ancient "sheet music" (carved into a clay tablet), the Pioneer plaque, etc.

This is a great book to flip through and pick up pieces here and there. The descriptions go into as much depth as they can on a single page, and give a lot of interesting historical information. The print and reproduction of images is mostly excellent, with a few images being of slightly lower quality.

It's easy to argue about inclusions (the Intel 4004 processor?) and omissions (how could he leave out ISOTYPE?), but overall this is a great collection. It works well as a coffee table book and for browsing, as well as to appreciate the fine detail and resolution of many of the pieces. Yes, this book is only available as a hardcover, and that’s a good thing.

Posted by Robert Kosara on February 14, 2013. Filed under book-reviews, criticism.