How to Lie with Statistics (Penguin Business) Paperback – 12 Dec 1991
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A pleasantly subversive little book, Guaranteed to undermine your faith in the almighty statistic.
About the Author
Darrell Huff (1913-2001) was a professional writer. He lived in Carmel, California.
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Top Customer Reviews
First, it's about numbers but manages to be both extremely easy to read and very entertaining.
Secondly, although it is so accessible that a ten-year old of average intelligence should be able to understand everything in this book, the points it makes are so universal in application that even someone with much greater mathematical knowledge - and I write this as a graduate with two degrees in a discipline which requires statistical understanding - can find it full of useful reminders and even the odd valuable idea you might not have thought of or heard of.
The book is about how numbers can be manipulated, by accident or design, to trick people into making false conclusions, and how to spot when you are being fed misleading numbers. In this day and age the ability to spot bad statistics is extremely important to everyone and can literally be a life-saver.
I was very surprised indeed to see that a previous reviewer had described this book as "not for everyone." I could not disagree more strongly.
If every voter read this book, fewer bad politicians would be elected on the basis of dishonest campaign statistics, if every consumer read it, fewer bad products would be sold on the basis of dishonest advertising statistics, and if every journalist read it there might be less harm done by scare stories based on bad statistics.
Despite the fact that this book was written many years ago, every single word in it is still very relevant today.
However, anyone with a serious interest in the subject who wants an update on some of the more recent examples of how statistics are misused should still start by reading "How to Lie with Statistics" and then follow up with the equally good "Damn Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best, which is more current and nearly as accessible. The two books complement each other very well.
There are plenty of lessons about how we should interpret the numbers we come across every day in adverts and (potentialy biased) news reports and there is nobody living in the developed world who can't benefit from the enlightenment that this brings.
The only disappointing aspect of this book is that it's so short, an accomplished reader with some knowledge of statistics could get through the book in a single (if lengthy) sitting.
It is not a long book, and some of the examples are dated (physicians recommending brands of tobacco, for instance), but the meat of the book is both accurate and extremely readable. It covers the ways that statistics can be made to show pretty much anything, both through deliberate manipulation and through simple sloppiness. The main chapters cover issues such as inadequate and biased samples, how to provide subtly and not-so-subtly misleading (though technically accurate) visual charts and representations, how to manipulate perception by eliminating inconvenient precision and adding spurious precision, how to manipulate perception by supplying numbers without context or by simply leaving inconvenient facts out, and how to confuse people thoroughly about correlation vs. cause-and-effect. The final chapter provides a nice summary: the questions you absolutely must ask about any figure you are presented with, in order to judge its worth.
As the author himself says, it may read something like a graduate text on dishonesty, but one can assume that people who deliberately wish to mislead have figured out how already; this is to educate the honest person who wishes to be alert. It is frequently used as a text in undergraduate statistics courses, for good reason.
The odd-sounding title is easily explained by the author himself. He says he wrote the book much in the same spirit as a burglar might write an instruction manual on how to break into people’s houses — not so much to make it easier for burglars to do so, but so that home-owners can see where their vulnerabilities lie.
These days, the book seems to be even more relevant. Not only are research findings reported in the papers virtually every day, but in education in particular there are quite a few articles of faith that are based on shaky, and sometimes non-existent, foundations.
With chapters like “The well-chosen average”, “The little figures that are not there” and “The semi-attached figure”, the book makes you look at statistics in a different way.
For example, if you were to read a report that tells us that research has shown that 98% of students derive no benefit whatsoever from using technology, you may have a vague feeling of unease about such a finding. However, having read this book you should be able to re-read the report and spot where the statistical sleight of hand occurred (assuming it did occur, of course).
Then again, there are the endless announcements telling us that eating X wards off cancer, causes cancer, is dangerous for people over 40, is only dangerous if you eat more than one a day etc etc ad nauseous. Again, an insight into how some of the figures cited were derived would be immensely helpful in your decision-making.
Illustrated with cartoons by Mel Calman, this light-hearted and slim volume punches way above its weight. Although it was first published over 60 years ago, in 1954, it is still relevant. It should be on every teacher’s shelf and in every school library.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I bought this as a graduate student wanting some entertaining, but hopefully useful, reading on statistics. Read morePublished 1 month ago by DH
The book has some good common sense information in it, however it is a little dated now.Published 1 month ago by Dr. Pip Griffiths
Nice book, nothing amazing, it's more or less what you already know if you studied the topic a little in schoolPublished 3 months ago by Stefano Solinas
Another classic! Recommended for everyone who tries to present facts to others.Published 3 months ago by Peter E. Wahlberg
If you have no background in statistics at all then perhaps this is a good read. Otherwise, it's very brief and not particularly insightful.Published 8 months ago by Nathan Cunningham
Many years ago when I was an LSE Student I was amazed to see this book on my BSc Econ Reading List.
I enjoyed reading it again - now so that I did not lie with Stats - but... Read more
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