The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless is my first science/math read of 2011. I spent New Year's Day hungover and barely able to get out of bed, so I grabbed a book filled with mostly pictographs and charts (that's the best part of math anyway, right?!).
The first one in the book, the four-page spread Billion-Dollar-O-Gram, had me hooked. Using squares and rectangles of different sizes and colors to represent how many billions the United States or other behemoth companies rake in for this or pay for that. The second biggest rectangle covering over a quarter of one page is the projected $3000 billion cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The largest shape is the $7800 billion "worst case scenario of the financial crisis to the US Government".)
A much smaller square of only $300 billion would save 1B of the poorest people worldwide, or a paltry $4B would clean up BP's mess in the Gulf.
There's also charts explaining the best wines/years to drink them or save them, the evolution of rock music (I've always wanted to see someone spell that out), and even the best depiction I've ever seen of media consolidation: a garden with flowers representing media outlets like Rolling Stone magazine, HBO, and the Wall Street Journal, with their "bulb" representing the size of their parent company.
GE is the biggest bulb, with NBC as it's only bud, but all that may change very soon if the NBC/Comcast (E!) merger is approved. Just when you thought there wasn't enough variety in the garden...
Another very timely and useful chart I loved was simply a page filled with words, the names of common ingredients found in cosmetics, rated from good (Laminaria Digitata) and okay to nasty (parfum) and deadly (FD&C Yellow No. 5 Aluminum Lake).
Another useful chart was based on the periodic table of elements, but this one has the names and expiration dates of common (and rare) condiments. Very handy, just like the set of graphics explaining the difference between a Macchiato and Cafe Breve. You'll never go into a homegrown coffee shop dumbfounded ever again!
The Visual Miscellaneum spells out a lot of things that should be pretty obvious but are often overlooked. Perhaps someone with loaded pockets would be so kind as to send a copy to every member of Congress?