It is quite difficult to write a review for Alberto’s The Art of Insight. I have put this off for several months now, long past the “final date” Alberto mentioned to me if I wanted my blurb to appear as a quote he’d use.
But this work is just monumental. It’s stupendous. I feel so strange speaking in such superlatives about it. It gives me a sense of connection to our field of practice and how diverse we are within it.
As part of publishing this review, I am also publishing another post that is an email that I sent to a friend and former colleague about their question to me, “what books should I read to learn the basics of visualization?”
And to be fair, I didn’t put this book on that list. Of course, that is because it isn’t out yet!
But I want to solidify that I’ve read quite a lot of our field’s work. I’ve followed it for years. I very much consider the core of my professional identity as “part of the visualization community.” That post is meant to showcase many of the other books that I also think are worthwhile for someone to read.
So why do I think this book is monumental? Perhaps the greatest book about our field ever to be published?
In Chapter 7 (about my favorite visualization designer, Federica Fragapane) Alberto opens with a quote from Giorgia Lupi (perhaps my second favorite visualization designer), “We are ready to question the impersonality of a merely technical approach to data and to begin designing ways to connect numbers to what they really stand for: knowledge, behaviours, people.”
And this book, while about the art of insight, visualization, and discourses, is really about what all of those things stand for: people. This work is a celebration of our collective craft. It is also a celebration of the artisans who make us so beautifully diverse. We wouldn’t have a craft without the people. Our common language, visualization, is one spoken with incredible diversity. I’ve yet to see a single publication celebrate our diversity, and really show who we are, before this book.
Every chapter is a new person. And Alberto, using his journalistic prowess, really investigates who they are and why they visualize. What we are left with is a tapestry of people, all wrestling with the world in their own way through our shared art.
Alberto is a caretaker of the lost, someone who mentors and connects with those who are growing. He is a ferociously talented person but has managed to live with more generosity than our field deserves. Alberto’s love for the people who visualize shines through in this book. He is present with us.
Alberto has, in my own life and career, been a constant support. He offered me feedback on my work, put my words and ideas in front of others, connected me to people, and encouraged me when I felt lost. We’ve played board games together and discussed many fun, philosophical, and political things that we were burning up about.
So in some ways, The Art of Insight feels more like a family portrait as a snapshot in time, meant to be celebrated and remembered, than some static, unmoving monolith that claims the Capital-T Truth of whatever visualization really is. The Art of Insight shows that visualization is who we are, right now. It will become who we become with us. And that is beautiful.
I have known for years that he is someone with a deep love of our relatively obscure field of practice. But this book shows that his love of our field of practice is, really, a love of the people in it.
When we ask “What is data visualization?” We might find ourselves in the classic traps of ontological debate, which ultimately fall into epistemological ones: how do we know anything at all? What is good?
But Alberto cuts through the philosophical mess of such a question, “What is a whole field of practice?” by answering plainly: “It is us. And our work is good.”