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Statistics learning recommendations

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Statistics is a fundamental tool in the social sciences, medical sciences, actuarial science and finance. Aside from being useful professionally, some of the basic concepts of statistics are also crucial to quantitative literacy and making sense of the world in day to day life.

You should be warned that statistics expositions are sometimes conceptually misguided. The focus on frequentist statistics rather than Bayesian statistics is arguably an example of this, though this has been disputed. It's important to learn the standard perspectives in order to understand and communicate with people who use them. However, you should be critical in your reading about the subject – if some of the material doesn't make sense, it's possible that this is because it doesn't have good justification rather than because you're misunderstanding something.

Statistical intuition isn't the same as technical knowledge of statistical methods like factor analysis. One can have the technical knowledge without the intuition or the intuition without the technical knowledge. If you're planning on going into a line of work where statistics is used, you need to acquire the technical knowledge, but for general quantitative literacy, reading our recommendations for statistical intuition may be sufficient.


Statistical intuition

These are non-technical books that illustrate the concepts of statistics with real world examples. Because they illustrate the ideas in context, helpful for building statistical intuition.

Frequentist approach textbook

The most commonly taught approach to statistics is the frequentist approach.

Bayesian statistics

Bayesian statistics is thought by many people to be a superior alternative to frequentist statistics.

Chapter 8 of The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver gives the history of Bayesian statistics and an exposition of the basics of the subject.

Some blog posts that overlap with the content of Silver's book but that the reader may find helpful for slightly different perspectives are:

For a full technical introduction to Bayesian statistics, Introduction to Bayesian Statistics by William Bolstad may be helpful, but the book is very expensive.

Programming statistics

If you enjoy programming, are looking to learn programming, or will be implementing statistical algorithms in your work, these books may be good choices:

Online classes

If you find it easier to learn from lectures than from a textbook, we encourage you to check out free online courses. You can try out different lecturers until you find one who you find especially easy to learn from. offers over 110 statistics courses. The courses are expensive: $500 for a 4-week long course. We don't have any inside knowledge of the quality of the courses.

Cartoon books

The blog post The most comprehensive review of comic books teaching statistics discusses and reviews a number of cartoon books teaching statistics. These can be ideal for many people who want to learn statistics informally or even for people who want to learn statistics formally and are looking for a way to supplement their main learning source.