Covid by Numbers

Making Sense of the Pandemic with Data

David Spiegelhalter

How many people have died because of COVID-19? Which countries have been hit hardest by the virus? What are the benefits and harms of different vaccines? How does COVID-19 compare to the Spanish flu? How have the lockdown measures affected the economy, mental health and crime?

This year we have been bombarded by statistics – seven day rolling averages, rates of infection, excess deaths. Never have numbers been more central to our national conversation, and never has it been more important that we think about them clearly. In the media and in their Observer column, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter and RSS Statistical Ambassador Anthony Masters have interpreted these statistics, offering a vital public service by giving us the tools we need to make sense of the virus for ourselves and holding the government to account.

In Covid by Numbers, they crunch the data on a year like no other, exposing the leading misconceptions about the virus and the vaccine, and answering our essential questions. This timely, concise and approachable book offers a rare depth of insight into one of the greatest upheavals in history, and a trustworthy guide to these most uncertain of times.

First published by Penguin Press (Penguin Random House) in October 2021.


‘I couldn’t imagine a better guidebook for making sense of a tragic and momentous time in our lives. Covid by Numbers is comprehensive yet concise, impeccably clear and always humane’.
Tim Harford, author of How To Make The World Add Up

‘A valuable overview of COVID-19 statistics and how to navigate them.  Rather than just quoting numbers, Spiegelhalter and Masters discuss how to think about epidemic data… No doubt many books will be written on the COVID-19 pandemic… But if they want to get the statistics straight, their authors may want to read Covid by Numbers first’
Adam Kucharski – The Lancet

‘An extremely timely contribution… If journalists, politicians and the public were all provided with a copy then the debate would be vastly better informed, with much more light than heat‘.
Oliver Johnson – The Guardian

Jeremy Vine

‘A clear, concise statistical journal of the plague year. If you want to understand the numbers behind the virus that stopped the world, you ought to read this book’.
Tom Chivers, author of The Rationalists

‘Fantastic and wonderfully readable. A much needed antidote to the often murky and misinterpreted world of Covid data, explained in a straightforward and clear way – yet always remembering the humanity the data represents’.
Dr Hannah Fry

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