In brief: The Central Line, told through statistics about the people who live there.
The good: This is a great way to talk statistics.
The not-so-good: It’s a one sitting book.
Why I chose it: Working my way through the Penguin Lines series celebrating 150 years of the Underground.
Setting: The Central Line
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
A story told through statistics, linked to each stop on a London Tube line. That’s The 32 Stops in one sentence. But as boring as that may seem, it definitely isn’t. I think it’s a great way to talk about statistics, and to demonstrate the inequality of different areas in Britain. It looks at crime rates, GCSE scores, income and percentage of children living below the poverty line. In the space of a minute or two of travel, life expectancy and income can change dramatically.
The story of the Central Line is told over one Saturday, with a vignette for each stop. Interestingly, the western and eastern points are quite similar demographically. In between, it’s a mix from the very rich (hello Bank) to the very poor. Incomes, education and ethnicities all change on that one trip. In some places, you might be more likely to end up in prison. In others, your GCSE might be higher. Some areas have a higher number of rich immigrants. Some have great-grandmothers in their fifties. There is an incredible range here, from the expensive apartments to the council housing. Danny Dorling is well appointed to tell the reader the story, being a professor of social science and having published on the inequalities of those in England. The way he knits together the tables of statistics and makes them into little stories of nameless people (some who fit the average and some who are on the ends of the bell curve) really brings the numbers to life. (Plus, if you’re interested in the data, the book is extensively referenced…must read some of those ward newsletters one day).
It’s a quirky idea and may not fit everyone’s tastes. I thought it was a great taster in social geography as well as giving some eye-opening facts in an open way and linking it to people you might see in your travels. (Not to mention the dinner party useless fact that most bankers do live in Bank).