Manuel Lima’s The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge

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Manuel Lima & Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge

Have you ever noticed how many circles you see every day? The most obvious might be the sun, or perhaps the clock on the wall or your nearby coffee mug. … But what about that pie chart someone shared at today’s meeting? Or the Olympic rings we’re all so familiar with?

Why are we so surrounded by these rounded figures? Author Manuel Lima seeks to answer this question and more with The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge, which delves deeply into circular information design.

Manuel Lima

“I recall a moment in early 2011 when, after presenting a set of contemporary network visualizations at a conference, someone in the audience stood up and asked, ‘Why do most of the models you showed tend to follow a circular layout?’” Lima recalls. “Over time, the more I delved into this observation, the more obsessed I became.”

The Book of Circles is a follow up to Lima’s The Book of Trees, which traced the history of the tree diagram. This time, Lima aims to convey the “universality and timelessness of the circular layout.”

Of course we all know that circles are truly everywhere. We can see them in the cities and buildings we inhabit, in the objects and tools we use. But of all possible models and configurations—with endless possibilities for constructing diagrams and charts—why is the circular layout such an exceptionally popular choice for depicting information?

—Manuel Lima

After nearly 2,000 emails and more than three years of research, Lima has collected 300 illustrations from around the world, covering an array of subjects from architecture and urban planning to religion and biology. All told, they form a comprehensive—and fascinating—history of this universal symbol of “unity, wholeness, infinity, enlightenment and perfection.”

Be warned, though: “After spending some time with this book you will start seeing circles everywhere,” Lima says.

Manuel Lima

Oronce Finé, Geocentric model 1549 Drawing taken from the popular astronomy textbook Le Sphere du Monde (The sphere of the world), written by prominent French mathematician Oronce Finé…


Manuel Lima

EDITED Color Chart, 2015 Visualization depicting the fall 2015 season in fashion through a breakdown of all colors from each garment shown during Fashion Week in London, Milan, Paris, and New York.

Manuel Lima

Oliver Deussen, Eclipse Voronoi treemap 2010 A Voronoi treemap of the hierarchical file structure of the multilanguage software development system Eclipse, showing fifteen thousand classes.

Manuel Lima

Piero Zagami, UNSC/R 2008 Chart mapping the large number of resolutions passed by the United Nations’ Security Council executive body. More than 1,700 resolutions have been passed since 1946, accounting for up to 4,000 printed pages…

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Manuel Lima