Dataclysm - final coverAuthor: Christian Rudder
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Crown
Source: Blogging for Books
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Statistics

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Spoilers:  Medium
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People are always talking about the sort of information we put out there on the Internet. Between sites like Facebook, Twitter, (and yes) blogs like this one, we put a lot of information out there about ourselves. But what does that data really say about us? The prospect of weeding through it all can be daunting. After all, we’re talking about millions – no, billions – of people flooding cyberspace with all kinds of information.

Christian Rudder, the co-founder of OKCupid, has been trying to make sense of some of the data his site has gathered for a while now. Over on the OkTrends blog he’s been sharing an assortment of insights he’s taken from data accumulated on the ubiquitous dating site. Dataclysm pulls all that information together to better present it for a wider audience. “Big Data” is big. Rudder does his best to condense it some and give it a more human perspective.

The information that’s presented says a lot about society. Well, a subset of society, at least. The vast majority of the data Rudder uses comes from OKCupid so we’re self selecting based on the subsection of society that would tend to use OKCupid. But some of the information is just stunning. And a little unnerving. The implications some of the data makes about race, age, relationships, and preferences were particularly striking. (You can get a bit of a hint at the sort of things we discover on the OkTrends blog.)

Other stuff – curiosities really – can be hilarious. There are plenty of correlations made between certain races, ages, genders, and sexualities to innocuous seeming things like favorite bands, common keywords in profile write ups, and more. Personally, this was my favorite part of the book. Some stuff was just too heavy; the implications troubling. But the fun stuff made it all worth it.

Can it get a bit technical? Sure. A solid foundation in statistics would probably let you get more out of this book than someone with no math background at all.

I’m no mathematician.

In fact, I still have nightmares about doing statistics in my research methods course in undergrad. But I’m a denizen of the digital age and Dataclysm intrigued me. I can say first had that it is – for the most part – a very approachable book. The charts and graphs are generally easy to read and Rudder uses very simple color schemes to let the things he’s trying to show stand out.

Rudder has a good voice in general in the book. He’s clear and he mixes in a lot of relevant, interesting anecdotes that break up the monotony of simply sifting through data.

I’ll admit – I don’t read a lot of non-fiction books. I read books to escape. But this one was fantastic. I highly recommend it.

Final Thoughts:
Dataclysm is a book that really offers a lot – particularly to those who are fascinated with the Internet and what you can learn about people. I found it to be a very intriguing look. Online it’s easy to lie about who you are but a lot of the time we really just show our true selves. I think Dataclysm does a good job of showing us all that and it does so in a way that I think a lot of people would enjoy.

A free copy of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One Is Looking) was provided by Blogging for Books for a fair and honest review.

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