An eye-opening visual look at the assumptions and trends that lie beneath how the modern world ticks.
In 2019, writes geographer Cheshire, the FAA tracked 11.2 million commercial flights over U.S. airspace. That’s an astonishing number. More astonishing is the fact that this number was only a modest increase over 2009, yet during that decade, passenger numbers had grown by a third. This suggests that those additional millions of passengers were packed like sardines inside those planes, which “seemed like a good strategy until the pandemic.” Working with former National Geographic designer Uberti, Cheshire serves up revealing data about the modern world, his eye set on patterns that illustrate changes in our time. For instance, the authors track the signals sent from mobile phones to monitor migration patterns, which figure into a body of statistical and visual data that “illustrate how a warming planet affects everything from hurricanes to the hajj.” Eschewing what mathematician Edward Tufte calls “chartjunk,” Cheshire and Uberti look with admirable clarity at other patterns over time. One map, for instance, depicts the number of “vagrancy houses” made available in Cheshire’s native England to the homeless a century ago. The program involved removing these people from London, but at least they had somewhere to go, even if that somewhere amounted to “holding pens.” With economic decline and social change, the number of such people has mounted today, even as 216,000 houses sat vacant across the country. Using such data to point to a problem and a solution at once, Cheshire asks, “Why not make the housing permanent?” In a work that brilliantly demonstrates how big data and its visual representation can be put to work, the authors analyze the shift from rural to urban residence across the world, the mixed-race DNA that most of us carry without necessarily knowing it, the connections of rivers to commerce, and many other matters of compelling interest.
Demography and graphic design meet in an extraordinarily revealing book.