Amber Waves of Granular Analysis

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The United States: A Graphic History may not have been the very first info-graphic history of the United States, but it is a hugely satisfying volume. Authored by Louis M. Hacker, Rudolf Modley and George R. Taylor, this book made liberal use of data visualization (using ISOTYPES) to tell the tale of American capitalistic development from its early slave economy to the split between agrarian and industrial economies.

The charts were designed by Rudolf Modley, a disciple of Otto Neurath, exponent of the Vienna Method of pictorial visualization and the director from 1934 of Pictorial Statistics, Inc., in New York. The book was developed during the Great Depression as a means of showing the United States economic pathways.

“Here is history streamlined,” exclaimed the publisher, Modern Age Books, in their promotional copy. “All the clutter and windbreaks of footnotes and boring details that slow up the reader have been stripped away. History is presented in its functional form, dealing with the past as it influences our present social, political and business life.”

In case the message was lost, they added: “The United States: A Graphic History . . . is sound in scholarship and never for a moment dull. It is history that you’ll like even if you don’t like ‘history.'”

America has changed greatly since this book was published in 1936. Even history has been revised somewhat. But in addition to the illuminating use of charts, which are now so extremely popular in the data-viz arena, the book is an eye-opening look at what concerned people most in those dark years of economic hardship.

(Incidentally, a reprint appears to be available here.)