The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics by Alan Dabney & Grady Klein

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<i>The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics</i> by Alan Dabney & Grady Klein

Writer: Alan Dabney, Grady Klein
Artist: Grady Klein
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Release Date: July 2, 2013

There’s no denying that a comic book about statistics, much as it might pretend to be a cookie, is pretty much broccoli, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be well-cooked and -prepared broccoli. Hill and Wang seems to be the go-to publisher for dry nonfiction livened up with panels and word bubbles (e.g., last year’s Health Care Reform), and The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics resembles the cartoons that break up the “Dummies” books or lent some mild zest to your junior high math textbook. It’s better than both of those, though, and surprisingly manages to amuse and enlighten.

If you haven’t taken statistics since high school, you may think you understand it, especially if you’re a reasonably smart person. You realize that statistics can be manipulated and tend to be taken with a grain of salt. You may even remember something about sample populations and standard deviations. But if you’re at all rusty on any of that, Alan Dabney’s scaffolding approach — building new knowledge slowly over a base of instilled knowledge — will cram some of this math whatnot into your brain.

Grady Klein’s grayscale illustrations may feel awfully computery, but his grasp of body language makes them expressive and even charming. He builds a cast of characters including scientists (in white lab coats, of course), worm farmers, dragons, pirates, and more through a blocky approach with extreme variations in line width. The authors hatch some genuinely funny jokes, if you have a weakness for goofy humor, although only a fellow statistician would describe the book as “hilarious.” An appendix titled “The Math Cave” lists formulas with considerably more detail than the extreme basics in the rest of the pages, but they’re also safely walled-up from the more approachable material.