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Edward Tufte is having a yard sale
November 10, 2010 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Edward Tufte, patron saint of information visualization, is auctioning off his sizeable library of rare books, including major works in the history of science and statistical graphics. Christies auction catalogue is available for your perusal. First edition Isaac Newton, anyone?
posted by krunk (35 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I attended an Edward Tufte presentation a few years ago and was so impressed that he brought and shared (attended by white-gloved attendants) examples from a few of his rare books.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 11:34 AM on November 10, 2010


Is there a secondary market for auction catalogs? Clearly that's the closest I'll ever get to owning any of these things, and it seems like a more ... immediate form of display than like a coffee-table art book.
posted by penduluum at 12:00 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, to have the money...

*drool*
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2010


Wouldn't it be nice to be able to collect collections.
posted by keratacon at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The estimated prices seems a bit on the high side to me, even for what they are.
posted by mdoar at 12:16 PM on November 10, 2010


penduluum - you can buy the catalog to this auction.
posted by donpardo at 12:16 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is weird to see this. Tufte is about the last guy who I would think auctioning off his rare books. There is undoubtedly much more (and possibly something lamentable) to this story. It is hard to believe he is eager to do this in anticipation of fat wads of cash.
posted by bukvich at 12:19 PM on November 10, 2010


It is hard to believe he is eager to do this in anticipation of fat wads of cash.

I, too, am curious. Anyone know the backstory on this?
posted by jessamyn at 12:33 PM on November 10, 2010


Unless he has an epic gambling addiction I don't think this could be spurred by need. I don't recall if he has any children - perhaps he's getting ready to make an endowment and didn't think the Yale library needed another copy of Newton.
posted by ecurtz at 12:34 PM on November 10, 2010


I can't wait to see the charts he produces based on what his rare books go for.
posted by Brackish at 12:40 PM on November 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Maybe he's just tired of caring for that many rare books. It's got to take some space and attention to maintain. Seems like a high-quality scan & print would be just as good for his purposes.
posted by echo target at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2010


He's a statistician by training. Maybe he figured this was an optimal time to sell.
posted by ardgedee at 1:10 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering what this is about too.

Page 5 of the catalog has a statement from Tufte that says, in part, "The books in my research library were always meant to be used... For 30 years, the workaday presence of these wonderful books in my life was inspiring and challenging... With this auction, my research library will gradually turn into open-space land in perpetuity for making and exhibiting my landscape sculpture Storm-King style, and also into my museum and gallery, ET Modern, i new York's Chelsea art district."

So he loves the books but talks about his relationship with them in the simple past tense. He's clearing space for exhibiting his past works. Sounds like a guy who's planning on dying. Or at least retiring. He's nearly 70, but then again Paul Rand was working in his 80s. (And Tufte's closing statement is "Of course, there's another book underway as well. There always is.")

Maybe an explanation will turn up on Ask E.T.?
posted by Nelson at 1:18 PM on November 10, 2010


It sounds more like he's raising cash for the sculpture garden/gallery projects.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:52 PM on November 10, 2010


This seems weird. And inexpressibly, mysteriously sad somehow.

WTF, Edward Tufte? Has all that information design theory softened your brain?
posted by Skygazer at 1:53 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, never mind, it''s not so much that as it is watching the light out side wane out too fast and thinking about mortality...

Sorry, Ed.
posted by Skygazer at 1:58 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Might there be any reason to fear for Tufte's health here?

If I had that kind of library, I might want to personally oversee its liquidation (should I choose not to gift or donate the collection in part or en masse.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:08 PM on November 10, 2010


Yikes... The catalogue is E38, meaning even that is out of my budget.
posted by StephenF at 2:11 PM on November 10, 2010


This is a shame. His sculpture is terrible.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:30 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like this sculpture.
posted by mecran01 at 2:51 PM on November 10, 2010


Probably relevant to mention the delightful (and free) tufte-latex class that is out there. Not perfect, but I do like the documents it produces.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 3:34 PM on November 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


The patron saint of information presentation merited a web display of his goods with decent navigation and magnification tools.
posted by cogneuro at 3:41 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those within striking distance of NYC: the collection will be on view the weekend before the auction at Christies' headquarters in New York.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2010


the delightful (and free) tufte-latex class

I signed up for this at adult ed, and it was not what I expected.

Oh, Tufte-LaTeX. Right.
posted by zippy at 4:34 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Many kittens died while I was at a conference last month.
posted by special-k at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2010


It is weird to see this. Tufte is about the last guy who I would think auctioning off his rare books.

I think someone must have bought him a Kindle. Or maybe an iPad, so he can see charts in color.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:39 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, fine, Powell's gets Anne Rice's library, but la-ti-dah Tufte has to sell his books through Christies. Whatever.
posted by redsparkler at 9:05 PM on November 10, 2010


...my research library will gradually turn into open-space land in perpetuity for making and exhibiting my landscape sculpture...
certainly resonates with my take of the situation. Tufte gave a talk at work a few month back and I was stoked. It started well but turned into a rambling monologue on his current sculpture work. Not at all what I was expecting. I left thoroughly disappointed. At the time we thought the take away message of that talk was "it's sad to grow old..."

I agree with my friend who thinks it's another example of someone bored with what they are good at and seeking new challenges (and perhaps not so good at it).

I went to that talk much like I would a concert of a favorite band. I really wanted him to play his greatest hits, but he just wanted to play songs off his new album.

I think he's fascinated by different problems now. But man his old songs were so catchy...
posted by lucidprose at 9:18 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Attending one of Tufte's full-day sessions in San Francisco was one of the most monumental disappointments of my professional life. It was 8 hours of dry-but-acceptable lecturing, chock full of "turn to page 82 of "Visual Display of Complicated Information" and read the 3rd paragraph down" ... silence ... then he'd read it to us and maybe talk a little bit more about it. Maybe. The guy's a genius in many regards and I agree with his sentiments against presenting information using slides in general, but he does a horrible job convincing people to present without them. It was just terrible.

On topic: It is unfortunate that he's parting with his library, though it seems he's made his mind up on his own, not out of financial duress. If he's not enjoying them and spending time around them, it's nice that he's going to let other people add to their own libraries.
posted by pkingdesign at 9:22 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tufte makes beautiful, inspiring books for designers, I get the impression though that he's not interested in empirical study, and so it's hard to build on his work. I really enjoyed Robert Spence's book on information visualization though, rich with ideas backed with understanding from psychology and cognitive sciences.
posted by yaxu at 11:44 PM on November 10, 2010


a womble is an active kind of sloth: "Probably relevant to mention the delightful (and free) tufte-latex class that is out there"

This is really super awesome. Thanks!
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:20 AM on November 11, 2010


I can't believe I am the first idiot to post this: I don't want to bother with the auction or the catalog; I'm waiting for the PowerPoint® to summarize the whole thing.

I highly respect Tufte, I just couldn't resist. Sorry.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:44 PM on November 11, 2010


I went to one of Tufte's seminars about eight years ago. I was 19, and one of the youngest people in the crowd. He had his assistants going around in their white gloves displaying the books, and then for some reason he needed one of them to do something else--points at me and says, "Give it to her." I turn my hands up like dead bugs on the desk in front of me and his assistant deposits this priceless volume of Euclid's Elements in my hands.

My palms sweated faucets.

Today I'm a librarian.
posted by athenasbanquet at 8:32 AM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


As Nelson predicted, he posted about the auction on Ask E.T.
posted by djb at 7:37 PM on November 12, 2010


The catalogue is E38, meaning even that is out of my budget.

They're expecting a copy out on the shelf any day now at my LPL. (All the upcoming/current/recent auction house catalogs show up here, which is awesome.) I'm looking forward to making some nice, big scans of several pages, as soon as Mz. Rare Book Librarian is done with it.
posted by carsonb at 3:14 PM on November 19, 2010


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