I’m going to disagree and say that Envisioning Information is his best (by far), followed by The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Both cover fundamental properties of great information design, and both do it extremely well with amazing examples and beautiful design (the pyramid on page 16 of EI is magical). But after that he goes downhill quickly. Visual Explanations comes in third, slightly ahead of Beautiful Evidence, but both VE and BE are trying to squeeze out the last bits of Tufte’s ideas on the topic. Unfortunately Tufte is a one trick-pony – that being said, it’s a great trick. But after two books he’s exhausted his material and his later books are mostly collections of pretty pictures.
…is beautiful, and FWIW, I’m happy to drop the cash for his stuff. His pretty pictures runs circles around most other people’s pretty pictures.
I agree with your ranking, however I think they are all worth reading if you enjoy and agree with his message. I started with Envisioning Information and still believe its the best of the four even though it was his second. His first - The Visual Display of Quantitive Information - is my second favorite. And the third - Envisioning Information, next, trailed by Beautiful Evidence. Little new ground is broken in books 3 & 4, although lots of demonstrative examples which you will likely find inspiring.
If your work at all involves making charts, presenting information, making reports, these books will, and should, change the way you approach that task.
Tufte’s books would be my coffee-table books, if I could keep my coffee table clear of clutter for longer than about two days.
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