|Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving|
|author||Jonathan G. Koomey, PhD|
|summary||A guide to mastering the art of problem solving|
An overview:TNIK is one of those rare books that is simple in its presentation and quietly leaves a deep understanding of its topic. Chapters read like common-sense and jibe with everyday experience in a satisfying way. Koomey is a masterful analyst who has distilled his years of experience into a well-thought-out, well-written book on the "art of problem solving." Koomey's tone is conversational and succeeds in making a potentially dry topic interesting and relevant through genuine insight, clear prose, and real-world examples.
TNIK is divided into 5 sections containing a total of 38 chapters. The chapters are easily digested. The book can be read equally well straight-through or in bites here and there as interests warrant -- in fact, Koomey uses icons in page margins to cross-reference chapters encouraging the reader to jump around if a thread seems particularly interesting.
See table of contents at bottom for more information on content -- the chapters are small enough that the ToC provides an excellent summary of the territory covered in the book. Also, here are some sample chapters online.
Why Recommend a Book about Problem Solving on Slashdot:
While I consider myself more of an analyst than a programmer, I've written a fair amount of code in support of data analysis (mostly perl and sql). I've benefitted invaluably from books recommended on Slashdot that I wouldn't have known to pick up or notice otherwise. I thought this book might be similarly useful to others who were interested in improving their problem solving skills and/or analytical approach. This book is the The Practice of Programming of the practice of problem solving.
What I Enjoyed About the Book:
I have read TNIK twice and used it as a reference on many occasions. Reading it has helped me retool my approach to analysis in a broad way (getting more organized, becoming more cynical about "official" analysis, questioning my own analysis more deeply, and developing different analytical scenarios all come to mind), pointed me to other excellent references, and most importantly, always helped me with whatever problem I'm currently working on. I tend to pull it off the shelf when I'm starting a big project and it has been an easy way to gain inspiration.
Other Good Stuff:
There is an outstanding "Further Reading" section which is essentially an annotated bibliography of recommended books organized by topic. There are many, many excellent books in this section and each listing contains a short description by Koomey as to why he recommends them.
Each chapter begins and ends with a quote relevant to the chapter topic and lots of humorous comic strips (Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, New Yorker, etc.) relevant to the chapter throughout the text serve as comic relief.
A Note on the Publisher:
This book is published by Analytics Press in Oakland CA. Individual copies are available through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.com. Ordering options here.
This book is on par with Edward Tufte's influential Graphical Explanations (which amazingly hasn't been reviewed on this site yet!) The beauty of the book is in its elegant coverage of so many topics in such a short space. This book is a road map to great analysis and it behooves anyone interesting in improving their skills to take advantage of it, and judging by the amount of bad analysis created on a daily basis, it deserves a spot on many bookshelves! Other reviews are here.
Table Of Contents:
- Part I: Things to Know
- Beginner's Mind
- Don't be Intimidated
- Information, Intention, and Action
- Peer Review and Scientific Discovery
Part II: Be Prepared
- Explore Your Ideology
- Get Organized
- Establish a Filing System
- Build a Toolbox
- Put Facts at Your Fingertips
- Value your Time
Part III: Assess their Analysis
- The Power of Critical Thinking
- Numbers Aren't Everything
- All Numbers Are Not Created Equal
- Question Authority
- How Guesses Become Facts
- Don't Believe Everything You Read
- Go Back to the Questions
- Reading Tables and Graphs
- Distinguish Facts from Values
- The Uncertainty Principle and the Mass Media
Part IV: Create Your Analysis
- Get Unstuck
- Be a Detective
- Create Consistent Comparisons
- Tell a Good Story
- Dig into the Numbers
- Make a Model
- Reuse Old Envelopes
- Use Forecasts with Care
- Hear All Sides
Part V: Show your Stuff
- Know Your Audience
- Document, Document, Document
- Let the Tables and Graphs Do the Work
- Create Compelling Graphs and Figures
- Create Good Tables
- Use Numbers Effectively in Oral Presentations
- Use the Internet
Conclusion: Creating the Future
You can purchase Turning Numbers into Knowledge from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.