Andrew Gelman picks five books on statistics

From The Browser:

These books you’ve picked – have you chosen them to get people interested in statistics? Or are they more for people who are already interested in statistics as a way to think about statistics?

Favorite Statistics is what people think math is. Statistics is about patterns and that’s what people think math is about. The difference is that in math, you have to get very complicated before you get to interesting patterns. The math that we can all easily do – things like circles and triangles and squares – doesn’t really describe reality that much. Mandelbrot, when he wrote about fractals and talked about the general idea of self-similar processes, made it clear that if you want to describe nature, or social reality, you need very complicated mathematical constructions. The math that we can all understand from high school is just not going to be enough to capture the interesting features of real world patterns. Statistics, however, can capture a lot more patterns at a less technical level, because statistics, unlike mathematics, is all about uncertainty and variation. So all the books that I thought of, they’re all non-technical, but they’re all about variation and comparison and patterns. I put them in order from most statistical to least statistical. Most people would probably only consider the first of them as really about statistics, but they’re all about statistical thinking, as I view it.

Your first one, then, is The Bill James Baseball Abstracts, from 1982 to 1986. I have to confess I know nothing about either statistics or baseball…

Baseball and statistics traditionally go together. One of my inspirations to become a statistician was reading The Bill James Baseball Abstracts. I can’t remember what Bill James did before, but he had an unusual career: I believe he was a night watchman. He was not employed by any baseball team or academic organisation. He just, on his own, decided he wanted to study baseball statistics. He wrote a series of books called The Baseball Abstracts that became widely published, starting in 1982, and became cult classics. In these books he mixes in stories about baseball and goofy statistics – which in the pre-ESPN era weren’t widely available – with in-depth analysis of questions such as, which is more important: speed or power? At what age are baseball players most productive?

More here.