The title of Katja Berlin’s book translates as Things for Which Women Have to Justify Themselves, and the cover shows a circle divided into four equal parts. They are labeled “Only children,” “Only career,” “Children and career,” and “No children and no career.” She is the creator of a pointedly humorous set of graphs that appear in the respected German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. The series is named “Torten der Wahrheit,” or “Pie [Charts] of Truth.” The book collects about 160 of the best pie charts and bar charts that have appeared in the newspaper, and anyone who chortled at the chart on the cover will probably like the rest of the book.
Some of the charts are applicable to modern life in general, such as the bar chart showing “Criticism of the Police.” A small bar on the left is labeled “From conservatives.” A slightly larger one in the middle is labeled “From left-liberals.” On the right, a bar more than four times taller than the others is labeled “From conservatives or left-liberals when radar catches them speeding.” Or the two-column chart titled “The Market”: on the left is a tall bar labeled “Probability that there is a market solution”; the far smaller bar on the right is “Probability that there is a good market solution.” In the chart “”Digital Sources of Aggression” a little less than 10 percent goes to “Shooter games,” while the rest is attributed to “Windows updates.” Some are gentler. “Autumn Activities” gives about 10 percent to “Reading Books” and the other 90 percent to “Buying Books.” Not that I would know anything about that.
Other charts take aim at specifically German traits and topics. “German E-Government” is illustrated by two boxes linked by an arrow. On the left are “Incomprehensible Forms” and on the right are “Incomprehensible Online Forms.” In recent years, German trains have not lived up to their international reputation for running on time. Well, some of them. The bar chart shows decent performance for short-distance trains. Long-distance trains fare worse. The trains that are most likely to be on time are the connections you are trying to catch. The German love affair with cars is an ongoing theme. The pie chart for “What Receives Tax Breaks in Germany” is divided into four equal parts. The colors in the chart correspond to “When you drive a company car,” “When you drive a diesel,” “When you drive an electric car,” and “When you drive a hybrid.” A fifth item occurs in the legend, but not the chart: “When you do not drive a car.” Then there’s “Provable Effects of Homeopathy” — it’s big business in Germany and homeopathic products are available in nearly every pharmacy — shown in a pie chart with three items in the legend: “Pain is gone,” “Illness is gone,” and the one whose color takes up 100 percent of the chart, “Money is gone.” Then there are the neighbors, as in the bar chart, “When We Are Pleased with Germany’s Politics.” On the left, very low, “When we look toward the future.” In the middle, still quite low, “When we look at the past.” On the right, almost to the top of the chart, “When we look at Austria.”
As the title indicates, one of the book’s major themes is the continuing sexism of German society, particularly the working world. The pie chart “Board Members of Top Publicly-Traded Companies in Times of Promoting Women” show about 20 percent in the section labeled “Women.” The other 80 percent are “Men who, despite this disadvantage, have made it.” Another pie chart is titled “What We Do Not Expect from a Group of Experts.” About 3 percent shows “That they are all wrong,” about 5 percent shows “That they deliberately state untruths.” The remaining 92 percent shows “That they are all women.” Then there’s “What Women Lack for Career Success.” About 2 percent each go to “Grit,” “Staying Power,” and “Self-Confidence.” The other 94 percent is “Afternoon Childcare.”
Language plays a role, too. Many German nouns that refer to people have different forms for male and female persons, and Germany has been wrestling for decades with how to be inclusive without being too wordy or becoming unintelligible. Thus the author’s pie chart of “German Words that are Criticized for Poor Readability.” About 5 percent goes to “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” (a law on transferring the supervision of beef labeling), another 5 percent to “Verkehrsinfrastrukturfinanzierungsgesellschaft” (an organization for financing transportation infrastructure), while the remaining 90 percent is reserved for “Bürger*innen,” a way of writing “citizens” that includes both men and women.
An example to show the simple style:
When the compatibility of work and family functions particularly well in Germany:
When you have no job (l)
When you have no family (r)
I laughed, sometimes ruefully, all the way through. Every country should have its own pie charts of truth.