Samuel Barton (2nd-year Winner)

Essay: The Art of Information: A Beautiful, Empirical Journey of Perception and Understanding

Throughout my life, I have been defined by my curiosity and my love of learning. I have very diverse interests, even in terms of the books that I collect. The uniting theme has been my consistent attempt to figure out how things work; I have always sought out information regarding the systems that govern the modern world. Over time, I realized that what has always jumped out to me across media types: information graphics. Graphics and visualizations that effectively display information are the focus of my collection.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that my emotional and intellectual development is mirrored by my book collection. I see the books one owns as an extension of oneself. I hope to read an incalculable number of great books in my life; I will only own so many. I still love all of the books that first led me into this field of book collecting– I may actually appreciate them more, since I can see further connections that I was previously unaware of. A good example of this is The Way Things Work by David Macaulay. I spent a good portion of my childhood with my eyes glued to the pages of this tome.

The collection started when I was around age seven with Macaulay’s book but has continued to grow slowly over time, with a substantial increase in acquisitions over the last three years. Knowing that I have been fascinated with these sorts of books, many of the volumes in my collection have been gifts from my father. In this sense, he has sparked my urge to collect these books. After some receiving my first books as gifts, I started seeking out suitable companions for them whenever I was at a library or a bookstore. I am a huge book enthusiast; I spend a lot of time in bookstores and libraries. Recently, I have also started to seek out plausible additions to my collection whilst travelling in Germany. I have not had very much luck with finding related books in German (which I speak); however, I have come across some English-language books in Germany which I would not have otherwise found.

My most recent acquisitions have been the ‘how-to-esque’ volumes: Cairo’s books and Yau’s book. Being so passionate about a good information graphic, I am working on learning to create my own, or at the very least, understand more of what goes into making a good one.

In this discipline, perhaps the most influential recent thinker is Edward Tufte. I think it’s notable that his books are not in my collection. The reason that I have been holding out on acquiring them is that I am planning on attending one of his day-long workshops in April, which includes a signed copy of each of his books in the price of admission. I have read through loaned copies of his books and I love them. I recently met someone, and we bonded over our mutual fondness of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Thus, I am very excited to add Tufte’s books to my collection soon.

I am also planning on studying abroad in Berlin next year. Whilst there, I would like to find other people interested in the subject of my collection and look for German-language books about (or including) information graphics. In this search, I would love to find some more dense-yet-clear maps such as the FAA sectionals in my collection. I am currently looking for nautical maps that fit into my criteria for ‘information graphics.’

Finally, far in the future, if my passion and interest in the subject area pay off, I would love to add one of my own information graphics to my collection.