Naked Statistics: Book Review and Commentary

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Naked Statistics" by Charles Wheelan. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Charles Wheelan’s Naked Statistics about? What statistics does Wheelan cover in the book?

Statistics help us use data to make sense of the world, and statistical insights help guide modern society, informing medical practices, public and fiscal policy, education initiatives, business and marketing decisions, and so on. But many people find statistics intimidating. In his book Naked Statistics, Charles Wheelan aims to demystify statistics to make them more accessible for non-mathematical audiences.

Keep reading for our review of Naked Statistics, including the author’s background and commentary on the book’s approach.

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread From the Data

Wheelan explains that learning statistics can make us more critical consumers of information and help us make informed decisions. As statistics students, we can learn to evaluate the information presented to us in political and marketing campaigns, on the news, in scientific publications, and so on, and put that information into useful context. Learning statistics will also help us spot misleading or misguided uses of data and statistics rather than being fooled by them. 

In his book Naked Statistics, Charles Wheelan puts the math behind statistics into digestible terms and explains statistics concepts with relatable, relevant, and even humorous examples. Readers also benefit from additional socio-political insight from the book, as Wheelan uses real-world anecdotes to explore how statistics can inform collective decision-making.

About the Author

Charles J. Wheelan is a faculty member at Dartmouth College and a former faculty member at the University of Chicago, specializing in public policy. He holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College, a Master’s in Public Affairs from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Chicago.

In addition to Naked Statistics, Wheelan is the author of The Centrist Manifesto and Naked Economics, among other books in the non-fiction and fiction genres. He is also the founder of the political organization Unite America, which works to bridge partisan divides in pursuit of a “more representative and functional government.”

Connect with Charles Wheelan:

The Book’s Publication

Naked Statistics was published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2013, 11 years after Naked Economics and shortly after Wheelan joined the faculty of Dartmouth College.

The Book’s Context

Wheelan’s discussion of the dangers of misused and misunderstood statistics follows other books on the same topic, including Joel Best’s 2001 book Damned Lies and Statistics and Darell Huff’s How to Lie With Statistics (first published in 1954). Following Naked Statistics in 2013, Daniel J. Levitin published A Field Guide to Lies in 2019, which also teaches readers how to spot misleading statistics and became an international bestseller.

Commentary on the Book’s Approach

The mathematical concepts Wheelan introduces in Naked Statistics are no different than those you’d find in any introductory statistics book. But Wheelan’s presentation of the math sets Naked Statistics apart from other books on the subject. Wheelan’s ability to make statistics interesting and engaging turned Naked Statistics into a New York Times best seller and led the San Francisco Chronicle to call Wheelan “the best math teacher you never had.” 

Wheelan’s approach in Naked Statistics accomplishes three main things. First, he introduces some of the most fundamental statistics concepts and calculations at an introductory level, accessible even to those who have never taken a class on the subject. Second, Wheelan uses examples to show why the statistics he covers matter and how they are used. These examples offer readers new insight into medical and social sciences research and public policy. Third, Wheelan shows readers why we should care about statistics by highlighting how misused and misunderstood statistics can get us into trouble.

Naked Statistics is an excellent choice for readers who are looking to study statistics on a conceptual level, and would like to be entertained and even amused while doing so. Wheelan’s skill as a teacher and storyteller makes the book an easy read, and his breadth of knowledge in the sociopolitical realm means that readers will likely pick up new knowledge about other subjects along the way. However, Naked Statistics might not be the best choice for advanced statistics students or readers looking for help with statistics calculations, as Wheelan intentionally minimizes his discussion of calculations and keeps the statistics he covers at a beginner level. 

Naked Statistics: Book Review and Commentary

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Charles Wheelan's "Naked Statistics" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Naked Statistics summary :

  • An explanation and breakdown of statistics into digestible terms
  • How statistics can inform collective decision-making
  • Why learning statistics is an exercise in self-empowerment

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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