Over the last year, I've come to know Alex Kolokolov more, through involvement with his data visualization challenges. I was really pleased to see he'd written his first book Make Your Data Speak (Creating Actionable Data through Excel For Non-Technical Professionals).
Things I Liked
I really liked the conversational style of the book. It's all structured around an approach of "Let's see how this happens by example". The tone was really refreshing and should be good to hold people's interest.
I also really loved the approach of starting with a (believable) mess and cleaning it up. The level of the book would probably work best for the "not really comfortable with pivot tables yet" audience but I could see it being useful for people who've worked with these types of problems before, and who have probably made all the mistakes that Alex talked about in the book. Alex did say it's for non-technical professionals and I think that's spot on.
Having QR codes for linking to sample code was a simple but nice addition.
I found myself chuckling a bit when reading the colours and theming parts. When I see demonstrations of material like this, people often demonstrate truly awful colours, and I think "no-one would do that". Alex has chosen examples that are nasty but believable. I've seen worse in the field.
Similarly, the section on choosing visualizations was detailed and well-argued.
The book finishes with a section on improving data-driven culture in the organisation. That's a good way to end.
Things I'd Like to See Improved
Not much. It's great!
It's important to note that the book focusses on Excel. I did keep thinking about how I'd do it in Power BI instead, but there is a very, very big audience for Alex's take on how to tell data stories using Excel.
I was concerned about how the English would be, from a non-native speaker. Some was a little odd, but Alex has done an outstanding job. In fact, it's so much better than so many books I've recently read from native English speakers. I really did not notice errors apart from a few things that sounded grammatically odd to me. As an example, the chapter "Dashboard Assembling" really should be "Dashboard Assembly" or perhaps better "Assembling Dashboards". Some sentences like "Assembly according to the layout is faster and easier…" is strictly correct but sounded a little odd.
I'd have to say though that nothing really grated on me. And that's quite an achievement. I hope one day I can do the same in Mandarin, but I fear I'll be far short of the level of what Alex has achieved in English writing.
If you need to learn to tell a story with data and using Excel, this would be a worthwhile addition to your library.
7 out of 10
2 thoughts on “Book Review – Make Your Data Speak – Alex Kolokolov”
You reviews are always very insightful and I love that you include what wasn't quite right.
Glad it's helpful. I'd only list those where it's minor issues. If I really don't like it, I don't post a review. I've had several books for review recently where I've just told the publisher that they don't want me to review it.