'Seeing the Bigger Picture' Beautifully Illuminates, but Fails to Make Connections

by Jose Solis

16 October 2013

This book turns global statistics about poverty, hunger, alcoholism and computer use, among others, into stunning visual representations.

Fun Facts Presented in a Graphic Way

cover art

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Claire Cock-Starkey

(Michael O'Mara)
US: Sep 2013

There are a few concepts known and accepted as true by most modern marketers: number one is that content is king, number two is that social media is the world to conquer, number three is that the most efficient way to put up content in social media is through infographics. Infographics are simply visual representations of data or information, delivered that way to make their absorption easier and their presentation more attractive. Pretty much anything and everything can be turned into an infographic and judging from how popular they are in blogs and websites, more often than not, people will literally turn everything into a nifty visual version.

In the absolutely gorgeous Seeing the Bigger Picture Claire Cock-Starkey turns the entire world into infographics. The book turns global statistics about poverty, hunger, alcoholism and computer use, among others, into stunning visual representations. In the introduction Cock-Starkey explains “a fact or a figure alone can be enlightening, but put that fact in the correct context and it can bring a whole new level of understanding” and it’s true, for the book becomes more and more fascinating with every read, or at least it seems to.

Facts from all over the world are presented using colorful graphics that more often than not are tongue-in-cheek and self explanatory; different banana sizes for example are used to represent the countries with the highest and lowest numbers in terms of sexual self-awareness and confidence (people in Brazil are the most confident in the world) and windmills are used to determine which countries have the most efficient green energy policies.

With each turn of every page, the book becomes more enthralling and it’s easy to devour the entire thing in one sitting as you read facts like: “the only countries that sell Coke 2 are Yap and American Samoa” and the number of people who still read newspapers. However on a closer, more critical look, the book reveals to be somewhat purposeless. Sure the facts presented are interesting (even if they will most likely be obsolete in a few years) but Cock-Starkey hasn’t given any coherent structure to the book that would allow readers (or casual viewers even) to determine stories concealed within.

There is no real order and numbers about teenage pregnancy and happiness for example, are followed by statistics about road fatalities and the use of broadband, pages later we discover that 65 percent of the world isn’t online at all and pages before that we learn once again that Brazil leads the world in terms of online dating (is that what makes them so confident about their sexual prowess?)

There’s also an inconsistency when it comes to figuring out how these statistics were determined, given that there are many elements to take into consideration that could very well shift the entire meaning of a specific number. How are facts about economy determined for example? What elements are taken into consideration to determine what happiness means?

There is no justification whatsoever for the completely random organization of facts which makes this a book that’s only useful on the surface. Perhaps its purpose, more than an actual statistic companion, is to be an attractive coffee table book to help engage your friends and family in conversation. Indeed, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

When using the book as a party game for example, and choosing random pages and facts and trying to determine connections between them, like six degrees of separation. There must be something to connect the fact that France has the best healthcare in the world with 95 percent of the population in Zimbabwe being unemployed. Right?

Perhaps not, yet on a more serious note, Seeing the Bigger Picture also offers heartbreaking statistics that will undoubtedly move some readers to look at these facts with a more existentialist eye. It’s surprising to learn, for example, that one million people commit suicide every year, with males under the age of 44 being the most likely to take their own lives and it’s even sadder to learn that these suicides occur in countries with the highest literacy and income rates.

The statistics covering violence in Central America and the lack of gun control in Africa (and the subsequent rise in murders because of this) are chilling and might make you want to join the 60 percent of smoking teenagers in Lebanon. Seeing the Bigger Picture would’ve been better served from a more rigorous editing process in which the author intended to deliver specific messages using these facts. Perhaps it would have come out as a little more preachy in the process, but it would’ve made more sense and would have helped the book feel more essential. Seeing the Bigger Picture suffers precisely from not being faithful to its own title.

Seeing the Bigger Picture


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