The modern state keeps track of a great deal of information about its people - how many there are, what illnesses they suffer from and what goods they produce. In
The Triumph of Numbers I.B. Cohen traces how this massive use of statistics came about. It starts with a discussion of the building of the pyramids, but most of the book is concerned with the widespread adoption of statistical methods in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The history of statistics may not seem like a particularly interesting subject, but Cohen's book is surprisingly readable even if it's unlikely to make the bestseller lists.
Cohen looks at the work of early writers such as John Graunt and Sir William Petty and goes on to show how well known statesmen such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson pushed forward the greater use of statistics in our lives. There is a chapter looking at the work of the nineteenth century statistician Adolphe Quetelet. The final chapter examines the work of Florence Nightingale. Now you may think of her as 'The Lady with the Lamp' but this book presents a different picture of her - as someone who was 'passionate about statistics' and whose major contribution was in persuading the government to take notice of the shocking statistics of military and other hospitals.