NB. I was sent this book as a review copy.
I have to admit that I was skeptical about this book when I first saw it, and even on browsing through it became more so (read on for the but…). I count myself as a highly numerate person who has a reasonable awareness of the world of numbers around me and I thought that the book probably wouldn’t help me to navigate through the world that I already feel comfortable in.
The book is essentially a series of short chapters which discuss some of the ways that numbers are used, misused and mistakenly used in the media, from errors in units, to orders of magnitude, to the ways that graphs can misrepresent data either intentionally or unintentionally to the improbable precision so often used online and in print. Each chapter uses news headlines and quotes to highlight how such mistakes come about and the examples are extremely clear. What this book highlights is really a good checklist of things to be wary of whenever you see numbers quoted in the media.
I have to admit that by the end, my mind was really tuned into these ideas, and as I walked around London, passing billboards, news stands and TV screens quoting statistics, I was that much more conscious and thoughtful of what I was reading. In a sense, for anyone relatively numerate, the book is not going to teach you anything new, but it is going to make you far more aware of the warning signs that are extremely important to be conscious of, particularly with the explosion in badly checked factoids which are spread so quickly across the web.
The book is a short read but definitely one that I’m glad I went through as it’s re-attuned me to a very important way that we interact with the world. The book would be understandable to anybody with even basic numeracy and I think is a valuable resource to any media consumer of today.