Learning Data Analysis: Best Value Books 2021

BearMoney Team

BearMoney Team

BearMoney is the balanced finance blog for new and old Canadians alike. We are a team of people living international that research, write, and share

chart close up data desk

Data Analysis is fast moving away from being a skill of the future to a requirement of the present. Most companies, including small and medium sized ones have some form of in-house data analysis capability. Analytics is even a recurring political talking point given its use to influence voters.

The Information Landscape

Terms like ‘Big Data’, Analytics, ‘ETL’, and Model Building have become more and more common in general media and workplace conversations. Data has been dubbed the oil of the 21st century and given the amount of attention it gets from the biggest companies you can see why.

What is Data Analysis?

Data Analysis/Analytics at its most basic refers to a process that takes information and put it through a process (analysis) to create insight (useful interpretations of the). For companies this means understanding the Who What Where When Why and How of their customers behavior. All this boils down to using your information in a better way to make more money. Not hard to see why it’s become something popular in big business right?

The process itself follows steps and theories that can be a bit wordy but you get the idea.


Is it worth learning about?

If you have a interest in business, politics, health, or society in general then you absolutely should learn about data analysis. Everything in your daily life is impacted in some way by the use of data. Having a basic understanding of how this processes works and how it affects you will prove useful personally and professionally.

It is also worth remembering that a lot of political and economic news arrives via analytics these days and learning data analysis can help you spot the great news from the fake news.


Where to Start

The best place to start with data science is either an all-in-one book or a book on statistics. Both of these will help you understand the structure of what data analysts mean when they talk about their work. The first kind is best for people who want to actively perform data analysis while the second kind is good for a general understanding.

There is a steep learning curve to master all aspects of data.

Data Science from Scratch: First Principles with Python – Joel Grus $30

If you’re looking to learn both the principles and tools of the data scientist then ‘Data Science from Scratch’ by Joey Grus is a great introduction. The book uses the popular Python programming language. With free tools you will learn everything from collecting your data to cleaning it, analyzing it, and visualizing it. It will also teach you the basics of Python as well as more complex ideas like databases and natural language processing.

The book is will best teach people with a basic understanding of math and programming to use their computer to perform data analysis. It takes a methodical approach to go from beginner to intermediate skills touching on the occasional advanced topic.

This book is best for people with an intermediate understanding of computers and math. It would probably overwhelm most beginners and although it is the best full intro to the field out there, if you only want a general understanding our other books might be for you.

Statistics is the root discipline of data analysis

Naked Statistics – Charles Wheelan $12

Now I know what you’re thinking, what kind of book and I signing up for with a title like that!? Well, you’re signing up to one of the most accessible statistics books ever written. For a field that was often considered boring and tedious, statistics is now at the forefront of many jobs including data analysis. Charles Wheelan explains core concepts around probability, statistical significance, and degrees of certainty in a style that is both anecdotal and informative.

This book will not teach you how to analyze data in the way our other recommendations will. What Naked Statistics gives you however, is such a clear understanding of the skeleton that data analysis sits on, that you will gain tremendous value and insight. When you understand statistics you will understand the logic (or illogic) of data that is presented to you.

This book is best for people with a basic understanding of statistics who like straightforward explanations of ideas. It is ideal for people who want cut through the jargon of statistics and interact with analysis in a broader context.

Excel can be a great data analysis tool

Microsoft Excel Data Analysis for Dummies – Paul McFedries $20

‘Dummies’ book are always a great place to start learning any skill. This is especially true when it is a skill for something that is widely used like Microsoft Excel. While not a traditional data analysis software itself, Excel has many functions including pivot tables and power pivot that are great for beginners. For small data sets and finding your way around data analysis, Excel can be a great resource.

This book by Paul McFedries explains how to utilize Excel for looking at data and how to turn that data into a decision aide for your company. It will take you through the phases of data analysis from extracting and cleaning your data to loading and analyzing it all within a familiar Microsoft program.

This book is best for people with a intermediate understanding of Excel but should provide value to basic users as well. It is ideal for people who just want to know more about data analysis and apply their knowledge at a small scale.

Knowing Data for your career is becoming more importance daily.

Data Science for Business – Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett $35

If you interest in Data Analysis is more career-based then ‘Data Science for Business’ by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett is a good book to start with. The book is an explanation of data science as it relates to the corporate world. It covers topics like the role of data in organizations, the key concepts, and how to structure your business to get the most value out of your data.

While less of a technical manual, Data Science for Business contains a wealth of information that will help people navigate the business of data. It will also help them integrate their data analysts into their workplace culture. If you’re not a manager or business owner the book will still teach you how to understand, talk about, and leverage data to help your career goals.

This book is best for people who work in businesses that use data regularly. It is ideal for managers and people who don’t work in data as a primer stay relevant in the data economy.

Visualization is very important to analysis

Fundamentals of Data Visualization – Claus O. Wilke $45

Data Visualization is actually the most important step in the entire data analysis process. It doesn’t matter what your data says if you can’t show and convince decision makers. Fundamentals of Data Visualization is an expensive but vital book for anybody working in data. The techniques included in this book will bridge the gap between the boring math and the exciting graphics of data analysis.

Fundamentals of Data Visualization is a manual for people already versed in data analysis. It is included on this list because effectively visualizing and ‘getting buy-in’ are the two weakest skills of the majority of data analysts. By following the processes and advice of Claus O. Wilke, readers will be able to vastly improve their end products, even if they are only simple data projects.

This book is best for people who have joined the data revolution via hard science or technical backgrounds. It will teach the importance of soft skills and catering to the audience at an intermediate to advanced level.

Youtube free course

Bonus: Best Youtube Resource – Learn Data Science – freecodeCamp.org

There are hundreds of great online resources to teach Data Science/ Analysis. Many of these are provided free of charge and are highly accessible. For those that don’t want to purchase any books and may learn more visually, Youtube is a great source of learning. This is true of Learn Data Science. The course is a hefty 5hr tutorial from freecodeCamp.org, a course that will and encourage complete beginners in data.

The course takes learners through many concepts and free tools and enables you to follow along with the instructors. This course willbe best suited for people that want to start gaining practical knowledge as soon as possible. It is also great for people who don’t have a lot of money and learn better by following along.

If you have any other resource/recommendations feel free to post them below.


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