The Art of Statistics

Learning From Data

David Spiegelhalter

Statistics has played a leading role in our scientific understanding of the world for centuries, yet we are all familiar with the way statistical claims can be sensationalised, particularly in the media. In the age of big data, as data science becomes established as a discipline, a basic grasp of statistical literacy is more important than ever.

In The Art of Statistics, David Spiegelhalter guides the reader through the essential principles we need in order to derive knowledge from data. Drawing on real world problems to introduce conceptual issues, he shows us how statistics can help us determine the luckiest passenger on the Titanic, whether serial killer Harold Shipman could have been caught earlier, and if screening for ovarian cancer is beneficial.

How many trees are there on the planet? Do busier hospitals have higher survival rates? Why do old men have big ears? Spiegelhalter reveals the answers to these and many other questions – questions that can only be addressed using statistical science.

First published by Pelican (Penguin Press, UK) in March 2019.


“In an age of scientific clickbait, ‘big data’ and personalised medicine, this is a book that nearly everyone would benefit from reading.”
The Spectator

a rich study on number-crunching and its ubiquitous fruit…The Art of Statistics shines a light on how we can use the ever-growing deluge of data to improve our understanding of the world — and of some of the pitfalls we encounter in the attempt….the book does an admirable job of covering a great deal of ground in limited space….(it) will serve students well. And it will be a boon for journalists eager to use statistics responsibly — along with anyone who wants to approach research and its reportage with healthy scepticism”.

“Laced with oxymoronic appeal…there is something in here for everyone.  Spiegelhalter’s work serves as a reminder that there are passionate, self-aware statisticians who can argue eloquently that their discipline is needed now more than ever”.
Financial Times

“Important and comprehensive”
The New Yorker

“Like the fictional investigator Sherlock Holmes, Spiegelhalter takes readers on a trail to challenge methodology and stats thrown at us by the media and others. But where other authors have attempted this and failed, he is inventive and clever in picking the right examples that spark the reader’s interest to become active on their own”.
E&T Magazine

“This is an excellent book. Spiegelhalter is great at explaining difficult ideas. Yes, statistics can be difficult. But much less difficult if you read this book.”
The Evening Standard

“David Spiegelhalter is probably the greatest living statistical communicator; more than that, he’s one of the great communicators in any field. This marvellous book will transform your relationship with the numbers that swirl all around us. Read it and learn. I did.
Tim Harford, presenter of ‘More or Less’ and author of ‘The Undercover Economist’

“David Spiegelhalter combines clarity of thinking with superb communication skills and a wealth of experience of applying statistics to everyday problems. The result is The Art of Statistics, a book that manages to be enjoyable as well as informative: an engaging introduction for the lay person who wants to gain a better understanding of statistics. Even those with expertise in statistics will find much within these pages to stimulate the mind and cast new light on familiar topics. A real tour de force which deserves to be widely read.
Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology and Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

“If I had to trust just one person to interrogate statistical data, I’d trust David Spiegelhalter. He is a master of the art. Here, he shows us how it’s done. The result is brilliant; nothing short of an essential guide to finding things out – delivered through a series of detective-like investigations of specific examples ranging from sexual behaviour to murder. The technical essentials are also all here: from averages to infographics, algorithms and Bayesian statistics – both their power and their limitations. All this makes The Art of Statistics a first call for all those setting out on a career or study that involves working with data. But beyond that, it’s self-help for anyone with a serious desire to become a clued-up citizen in a world of numbers. If you want pat answers, or meat for your prejudices, go elsewhere. But if you want to develop the skills to see the world as it is, and to tell it how it is – honestly and seriously – this is the book.
Michael Blastland, creator of BBC Radio 4’s More or Less, and co-author of ‘The Tiger That Isn’t – Seeing Through a World of Numbers’

“In this wonderfully accessible introduction to modern statistics, David Spiegelhalter has created a worthy successor to classics such as Moroney’s Facts from Figures. Using many real examples, he introduces the methods and underlying concepts, showing the power and elegance of statistics for gaining understanding and for informing decision-making.”
David J. Hand, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College London

“There are, as the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. David Spiegelhalter is here to keep you from being duped by data”.
Science News

“H.G. Wells is frequently quoted as having said that “Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.” That day has certainly come. This wonderful book provides a non-technical and entertaining introduction to the basic tools of statistical thinking”
Professor Sir Adrian Smith FRS, Director, Alan Turing Institute

“We need a book like this….bravo”
Standpoint Magazine

“Statistics can lead us astray if used badly, but used properly can help us answer questions about the world that we could not answer otherwise. This book will help those who read it – from lay person to academic – to do the latter. It deserves to be required reading for all psychologists”.
The Psychologist Magazine

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