For a non-numbers inclined person to get into data

Does anyone have books to recommend a non-technical person who is not very numbers-inclined but wants to get into being more data-driven, and less afraid of numbers? :sweat_smile:

@Brendan starting a new thread for more input here! :smile:

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Good question! Something I’m interested in too. Hmm maybe we can narrow it down a bit? Are you interested in learning more about mathematics in general, or kind of “applied numeracy” in some area like programming, economics, data analysis, etc.?

One I enjoyed, fairly general classic book on math-focused problem solving, is How to Solve It:

Less specifically math focused but I think useful as a great primer on analytical thinking is Thinking In Systems:

Edward Tufte I think is a great entry point for thinking about data and how to usefully visualize / present it; he’s got a series of a few books that are well regarded in this area e.g. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information:

I’m not sure what books to recommend for specifically diving into more advanced math topics, but in an approachable way. I think I have a few on my list but need to explore this area more. Will see if anyone else has suggestions!

I’m more specifically looking at programming and data analysis/data science and analytics.

I think the challenge I’m facing while trying to learn programming is that the concepts are abstract and when I reach the basic javascript logic part of the course, I lose interest and it gets hard to press on. It just doesn’t feel ‘alive’ to me? I’m motivated to learn to code so that I can build websites/scripts etc, and also have a better understanding of how software developers think. The hurdle to cross seems to be understanding it at the fundamentals, why things work the way they do?

I’ve read Thinking in Systems and enjoyed it as someone who studied Sociology! Will check out the other 2 recs, but I think the Math book might bore me haha.

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Gotcha! I’ve been very gradually learning to code, mostly in the “building websites” side. Definitely agree some of the straight computer science texts can feel quite intimidating and abstract. One example would be Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, which is regarded as a classic and really goes deep but seems to ramp up very quickly. I haven’t yet made it past the first chapter or two!

One I picked up and is on my list to read is The Little Schemer which has an interesting structure, building up to an understanding of how LISP / Scheme programming works via a series of short question and answer statements…still feels abstract, but much more approachable. Might be one I read to get my feet wet before trying to get through SICP :slight_smile:

Another book that looks fun is The Nature of Code (pay-what-you-want on their site, which is cool!) which uses Processing to explore programming simulations / emergent properties of nature:

Readers will progress from building a basic physics engine to creating intelligent moving objects and complex systems, setting the foundation for further experiments in generative design. Subjects covered include forces, trigonometry, fractals, cellular automata, self-organization, and genetic algorithms.

One online book that seems really cool is Beautiful Racket, which introduces some cool ideas around domain specific languages (a powerful thing Racket apparently makes it easy to create)

This book teaches you how to design and imple­ment program­ming languages, a powerful tech­nique known as language-oriented program­ming. We’ll be using Racket, a language expressly built for making other languages.

I can’t speak to specific books / courses / resources on learning data science and analysis, but may be able to offer some suggestions re: building websites. For me, the latter feels more fun and concrete (making a website anyone can use) but I know there are lots of cool things you can do with programming + data. Maybe @jaredpereira or @davidklaing might have some suggestions as well.

One thing that’s probably useful both for building websites and for data / analytics stuff is learning how databases work, both some of the basic theory and just practically knowing your way around w/ SQL commands I’ve found to be quite useful even at the basic level I’m at. Julia Evans makes some great zines introducing programming concepts and has a new one on SQL.

D3.js, a Javascript library for data visualization, looks quite good too and maybe up your alley. And they have some super cool interactive demos available. (Using this tool Observable which I don’t know much about but looks good!)

And yeah you already mentioned it but Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software seems like a very good general starting point!


Wow, @Brendan lots of interesting stuff here!! I will take some time to slowly go through them!

Especially love the zines by Julia Evans and D3.js. Super cool.

Agreed that that building a website would be the most hands-on way to learn. :slight_smile: Did you self-learn how to build a website to create this? Sorry may have missed this piece of information about the history of this site somewhere. :sweat_smile:

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Great, let me know what you think, I haven’t gone through all the stuff above either, definitely lots on my technical learning to do list as well :slight_smile:

Yeah for building websites I’ve learned pretty piecemeal, a combination of figuring things out as needed both for my side projects and day job. I started learning some simple HTML and CSS, going through a book and making a single page static site or two, then figured out how to set up WordPress and gradually learning to customize and build on top of that more and more. So far most of the sites I’ve built use WordPress (old-school, PHP based) though I want to learn more JS and static site generator stuff as well.

This forum runs on Discourse, a great piece of open source software, and it’s linked to the other half of the Antilibraries site (where I list books, and other stuff TBD) which is on WordPress; the two halves actually run on separate servers but there’s a plugin that links the two so anyone who signs up has a linked account on both. (Right now not much to do on WordPress…but eventually could come in handy if I add more features down the line!) So most of what I did to get this site up was just installation and some customizing styles etc. If you have any other Qs let me know!