Best D3.js Books For Teaching Yourself Data Visualization with JavaScript

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Browser visualization is incredibly popular and libraries like D3.js are making the process super easy. But how do you get started with such a vast JavaScript library?

In this post I’ll outline my favorite books that cover D3.js in various ways. Some books are better for beginners while others cover more intermediate examples. Once you know what you want to learn it becomes much easier picking the right book to further your D3 education.

As a quick note, all of these books teach D3.js but do not teach JavaScript. You should already have the fundamentals of HTML/CSS and JavaScript covered before even attempting to learn D3.

If you’re completely new to JS development I’d recommend JavaScript: Novice to Ninja. It teaches the fundamentals in an easy-to-follow manner and I reviewed the book in greater depth if you want to learn more.

Best D3.js Book

If you’re a complete beginner you may be unsure of where to start. I do like all the books in this list, but for an absolute beginner I think the best book is D3.js in Action.

I do not think this is the easiest book. However it is approachable for a complete novice and it teaches the right way to do things with D3 to get you moving down the right path.


D3.js by Example

Here’s an easy book for beginner’s to sink their teeth into. The first chapter explains the basics of D3 and how the library works. You then get into pragmatic examples of data visualization in the browser.

D3.js By Example explores how data visualization works on top of the D3.js framework. You’ll learn how to make scatter charts, maps, and how to manipulate SVG shapes. Data binding with JSON is another important topic, but JSON is easy enough to pick up as you go.

Diagrams and code snippets walk you through each step of the way. You’ll have no problem following the tutorials in this guide because the writing is so thorough and easy to comprehend.

Early examples are very basic and as you progress they get more challenging. This book can be a good study reference to start with D3.js, work a bit, then come back later to work through the rest of the lessons.

Definitely a great book for beginners who want to understand all the fuss around D3.js.


D3.js in Action

Every major concept and feature of D3 visualization gets covered in this book. Beginner’s may struggle through some of the later chapters, but it is possible to learn D3.js with no prior knowledge just by studying this book.

D3.js in Action could be the absolute best book on the fun D3 JS library. It spans 350 pages teaching charts, graphs, and larger datasets with more complex visualization techniques.

Early chapters teach data binding and manipulating the DOM which are crucial for visualization. Prior knowledge of JavaScript is a must for this title, and basically every other book in this post.

You can be a complete beginner with D3.js and from this book walk away with everything you need to build real-world visualizations. Prior knowledge of D3 or SVGs is not needed, however you do need to understand JavaScript.

I’d recommend this to a beginner who’s willing to put in the work and try out different solutions.


Learning D3.js Data Visualization

Here’s another book from Packt titled Learning D3.js Data Visualization. This is much newer and just got a 2nd edition re-release based on popularity.

Animation and custom visuals are a big part of this book. You can pick this up without prior knowledge of D3, but you’ll go a lot further if you already understand some basics. You get a quick primer on the DOM and SVGs so you don’t need to know much beyond JavaScript.

Most of this book considers the value of D3.js in practical real-world situations. Animation and user experience are two topics that come up a lot. There’s even a few lessons that get into Node.js and TypeScript, both fantastic technologies for modern web development.

Depth and quality are both preserved well in this book. You can dig deep into topics and you’ll learn the right ways to actually create a visualization.


Data Visualization with D3.js Cookbook

Once you’ve gone beyond the basics you’ll probably have a bunch of ideas for your own projects. Diving into the work and getting messy is the obvious thing to do. But what about working from a series of code snippets?

This is the reason I like the Data Visualization with D3.js Cookbook. It not only teaches you some fundamental topics related to D3.js, but it also provides raw source code for very common problems.

No online tutorials can compare to the amount of recipes in this book. You’ll learn the best practices for D3.js code and how to handle various situations like data binding through APIs. It’s likely that you’ll find recipes in here you didn’t even know you needed!

At 300+ pages this is the ultimate cookbook for D3.js. It should come as no surprise that this book isn’t for complete beginners. However an inexperienced D3.js dev could still learn a lot by studying these recipes and learning how they work.


Interactive Data Visualization for the Web

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web by Scott Murray has been around for a few years. The title is vague enough to cover anything, but this is most certainly a D3.js book.

You learn how to dynamically create data and pull it from other sources to display visualizations in the browser. Bar graphs, pie charts, and scatter plots are just a few examples covered in this book.

All the code samples are top notch and they force you to consider the right way to solve a problem. D3.js is a great library. But it requires a knowledgeable expert to make good use of its potential.

This book by Scott Murray will get you started on the path to expertise. You can study from over 100 unique code examples and learn everything from basic graphs to animation and geomapping. I’d highly recommend this to anyone in the beginner-to-intermediate stage of D3.js.


Practical D3.js

At only 165 pages this book is small. But it’s not just a simple guide to D3.js. This is a guide to data science and visualization on the web.

Practical D3.js asks readers to start thinking like data scientists. D3.js is fun, but it can also be used for real business purposes. By analyzing data you can learn how to best display it on the web with the right tools and in the proper graphical style.

Shapes and animations are covered in detail to help you move forward with D3.js. However I do not think this guide is as comprehensive as others in the list.

If you just need raw examples I’d actually recommend the D3.js Cookbook instead. But if you want pragmatic examples of data science connected to D3.js then you’ll enjoy Practical D3.


Data Visualization with D3 and AngularJS

Looking to move a bit further into advanced D3 development? Then consider adding a frontend library to your D3.js workflow.

Data Visualization with D3 and AngularJS teaches the unique combination of Angular.js along with D3.js. This allows you to develop custom modules for your code to be re-used over and over. Unit testing is also covered in detail which isn’t something you’ll find in many D3.js books.

The obvious turn-off about this book is the forced Angular.js library. Some developers prefer React or Ember and may not even want to learn Angular. Plus the release of Angular 2 means that even pro Angular devs may need to relearn concepts.

But if you find any interest in the combination of Angular and D3.js then I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of this book. It’s only 280 pages but it doesn’t waste any time getting into the details of data-driven documents on top of an Angular foundation.


Visual Storytelling with D3

I can’t say this book will actually teach to to tell a story in D3. But if you’re a complete beginner then Visual Storytelling with D3 will get you off the ground and running quickly.

Some programming books can be overly-convoluted and just too confusing to even consider. This is not the case with this book where the author writes in a very simple colloquial manner. You should have no problem understanding even the most complex problems.

Unfortunately this book does not get into too many complex problems and it really seems like a beginner’s title.

It is technically “an introduction” to D3.js but I was expecting more tutorials. You will learn how to structure your code and how to build visual graphs in the browser. But there isn’t much on SVGs and this book won’t be as useful to more experienced developers.


Data Visualization with JavaScript

Some readers may want to move beyond D3.js and try other visualization libraries. This is the goal of Data Visualization with JavaScript, a somewhat recent publication covering a variety of data libraries.

You’ll learn about D3.js along with Flotr2, Flot, Chronoline.js, and Underscore/Backbone. I personally can do without Backbone so I didn’t get interested in this book very much.

The people who would like this the most are developers who may want to tinker with other data visualization libraries outside of D3. I personally find D3.js to be the most valuable and comprehensive, but it can also be confusing.

The author of this book teaches by example with pictures and diagrams in each chapter. If you’re just curious about JS visualization then this book can get you on the right track with a few different libraries to consider.


Mastering D3.js

Once you work your way through a beginner’s D3 book you’ll be itching for more. Luckily you’ll find it in Mastering D3.js – Data Visualization for JavaScript Developers.

The examples in this title really force you outside the box. You’re introduced to a few sections on Node.js for real-time data pulled from the server. You’ll also learn how to build a live analytics dashboard and a browser-based color picker.

Not every example in this book will apply to your real-world projects. But they will all teach you something unique about D3 and force you into thinking about new alternatives for visual problem solving.

If you can work through a basic D3.js intro guide or a beginner’s book then you should be OK to grab Mastering D3.js. It does require some knowledge of D3 to feel comfortable. But it’s not so crazy that you need to be an expert before turning the first page.


Learning D3.js Mapping

Mapping is a huge topic for data visualization and with so many APIs available today it’s even easier to study. Learning D3.js Mapping is a few years old but still freakin’ incredible.

The authors present a handful of problems related to geomapping along with custom solutions using SVGs and D3.js. You will have a much easier time working through this book if you already have a working knowledge of D3.

But honestly if you need to get into geomapping you can pick up this book with no prior knowledge and learn D3 as you go. Concepts start with data binding and basic visualization and move up to custom map styling with SVG.

Not every developer will have a need for mapping with D3.js. But if you do then this book is an absolute must-have for teaching yourself real practical solutions to browser-based geolocation visualization.

In our era of the modern Internet D3.js shows just how powerful the web can be. Developers can create almost anything from scratch given enough time and patience.

Learning D3 will not be easy but it will be incredibly rewarding. These books are my personal favorites and I think each one offers a different style of writing & teaching strategy for learning D3.js. So no matter where you are in your learning cycle I guarantee there’s a book here that can help.

Author: Alex Turner

Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.