Google Doodle honors John Venn

All of you know what a Venn diagram is, but how much do you know about John Venn. I knew nothing, but you can read about him in  his Wikipedia biography. Venn was born in 1823, and had he lived, he’d be 180 today. You can see a cool animation of his famous diagrams by going to Google, or clicking on the screenshot below:

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 5.52.11 AMIt also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, but I suppose Google didn’t feel like making a doodle out of that one.

h/t: Steve


  1. Ian Hewitson
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    The commemoration of the start of WW1 is a huge event in the UK today. We’re being encouraged to turn off our lights between 10.00pm and 11.00pm tonight (war was declared at 11.00pm BST) and Google will probably get a bit of stick from the usual suspects for choosing to ignore it.

    • Dominic
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:13 am | Permalink

      The thing is there are many many many commemorations one could make of it in the next 4 years, if one wanted to be ‘decade-al’ (if that is a word?!) yet Google oft opts for odd year doodles, which is fair enough. Why the decimal date is more significant in an arbitrary system I do not understand.

    • Dominic
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      I notice Venn’s son served in the First World war!

    • bonetired
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      Well, this usual suspect thinks Google did get it wrong.

      • Ian Hewitson
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

        I was thinking of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      I think Rowan Atkinson did the best commemoration of WWI in his Blackadder series. It’s the scene where Geoffrey Palmer is a British general with one of those battlefield planning maps with all the toy soldiers on top of a table. He is talking on the telephone while he nonchalantly sweeps whole battalions of toy soldiers into a waste basket. Absolutely chilling.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        I liked the scale map of the amount of territory captured in his office (1:1).

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:06 am | Permalink

        I still find the final Blackadder scene, where the charge over the top of the trench fades into a field of poppies, immensely moving.

      • Dominic
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        Chilling but totally inaccurate historically! That is the ‘Donkies’ school of amateur ‘history’. What were the British supposed to do in 1915/16? They went to war to protect Belgian neutrality. They were stuck with static warfare. They had to build new armies after the destruction of the BEF. They had to show the French they were serious allies or the joint efforts would have collapsed. That meant getting a lot of casualties in places like the Somme. Rates of attrition in Normandy in WW2 were at times on an equal level or higher.

        The idea that the generals were unthinking & callous is nonsense. It is a general’s job to send men to their deaths – one just hopes not uselessly. Certainly there was stupidity & waste. But eventually the lessons were learnt & Germany was defeated. A big question is, should they have continued the fight until the Germans were collapsing totally (like Pershing wanted I think) – that might have stopped the myth of betrayal that gave us the Nazis, or were those who advocated a less punative peace (like Haig) right to avoid the increased cost in lives that an invasion of Germany would have meant?

        • Dominic
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          DONKEYS! Doh! (I am one…)

  2. Dominic
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    The Great War is all over the news here in the UK at present. I have just read Junger’s Storm of Steel, Goodbye to All That by Graves, two biographies of Haig & the excellent Max Hastings book, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914. Now begun Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Three months ago it was a blank page in my knowledge of history, & it was the anniversary that encouraged me to fill that blank.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:15 am | Permalink

      As I was ambling back from the swimming pool a couple of days ago, I browsed the window of the main university district bookshop – safe because it was closed at the time – to find that 2 of their 3 window displays were devoted to WWX stuff. Mostly WW1, some WW2.

      • Dominic
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:18 am | Permalink

        I usually ‘do different’ & refuse to follow these publishing trends… really enjoyed the Hastings book – I like narrative histories.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

          I’m on a commitment to not buy any more books until I’ve got through the “unread” shelf. Which is going to take another year at current rates. So I can only drool at bookshops after they’re closed, and Amazon is verboten (conflicted though I am about Amazon more widely).
          The wife left me in a bookshop to select a guide book for our coming holiday yesterday. Guidebook selected, plus a Charlie Stross, and a Douglas Adams anthology totalling three times the thickness. That’s the last time I’ll be allowed into a bookshop this year!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

            Ha ha! I allow myself to buy books off my “to read” list when they are on sale of if it is something I really, really want (for example Adrian Goldsworthy’s Augustus book is coming out at the end of August (oooo I just noticed that the Augustus book and August are an interesting symmetry and I wonder if the publisher did that on purpose) and since Augustus is my favourite emperor, I MUST HAVE IT!).

            • Dominic
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:34 am | Permalink

              My favourite is Aurelian…

    • Ian Hewitson
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      I was tempted by Hastings’ book (and his critically aclaimed ‘All Hell Let Loose’about WW2) but I find his old school Tory politics so objectionable it puts me off reading him.

      • bonetired
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

        His books are pretty mainstream and he doesn’t hesitate to criticise the British where appropriate. For example, Field Marshall French was way out of his depth during both the retreat and 1st Ypres and Hastings doesn’t fail to point that out. If you want alternatives to Hastings, I would consider Keegan’s “First World War”, anything by Strachan or Martin Gilbert book of the same name as Keegan. I have tried to avoid Anglo-Centric books (Such as Farrar-Hockley’s Death of an Army which although very good gives an unbalanced perspective of the British role.). For an older, but still good book, Barbara Tuchman’s “Guns of August” is excellent.

        Having said all of that, take a punt on Hastings. His books are far more objective than his politics.

    • TJR
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      I’ve just started Clark’s “The Sleepwalkers”, which look’s like it will live up to the praise its received.

      For a one-volume history, David Stevenson’s “1914-1918 The history of the first world war” is very good, a bit more on the politics than the military in comparison to Keegan.

      I’ve read loads of WW1 stuff over the last 15 years, but somehow still haven’t read Storm of Steel. Must remedy that.

      (Never been keen on Hastings, though, skimmed several of his books and he always seems too much of a journalist and not enough of a historian).

  3. rickflick
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Looking briefly at Venn’s last publication, it appears that he was flirting with unbelief. Well, maybe not quite. He appears to be speculating about the idea of doubt and how one seems to shift in belief at different times in life. I would guess, if he had lived an extra decade or so, he might have shifted his belief right off the chart.
    Skimming the introduction ( he mentions how logic seems to be at odds with the wavering nature of religious belief. Sounds like a good start in the right direction.

  4. Elizabeth Nall
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you for explaining to me what the Google Doodle was all about.

  5. bonetired
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    A simple poppy would have been sufficient for Commonwealth versions of Google. I think Google got this one wrong.

  6. Mark Joseph
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Here’s my all-time favorite Venn diagram.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      And here’s a close #2.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Those are funny but, pedant that I am, I was saddened that the diagram had “Frankenstein” instead of “Frankenstein’s monster”. I suppose it was more going for the movie than the book, but the namelessness of the “wretch” is a big part of the book.

      Still a funny venn though! 🙂

  7. Alex
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink


    Somehow, the birth date you give is not an element of the set of correct solutions of 2014-180 😀

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I don’t see the cool Venn Google doodle in Canada & Google does some hocus pocus and shows me the regular Google even when the address is .com.

  9. Gayle Ferguson
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Google prefers to think of the start of WW1 as the date that America joined the war! Must remember to look out for it in 3 years time…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Americans are always late to wars. 🙂 Being born to two different former British colonies, it would have been better if those colonists had not joined when Britain did (but of course they had no choice) as the colonists were used as cannon fodder.

      • TJR
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Not true at all for either point on the last line. In particular Dominion forces were all-volunteer.

        (In the sense that Dominion and Colonial troops were no more cannon fodder than anyone else).

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Um no. Canadians didn’t have a choice to join WWI: see here for example.

          The British declaration of war automatically brought Canada into the war, because of Canada’s legal status as a British dominion which left foreign policy decisions in the hands of the UK parliament.

          There was no option to NOT join. The only thing Canada could do was to decide on its level of involvement.

          As for cannon fodder, what about Gallipoli where my NZ family was injured) and what about Vimy Ridge for Canadians? Colonist troops were often put out front where they were slaughtered.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

            Yes. NZ troops were initially all volunteers, although conscription came later, to a war we didn’t have a choice about being in. By the end 10% of our entire population had been killed or injured. Our per capita death rate was one of the highest. WWI was a defining moment for our young nation. My grandfather was one of those who volunteered in 1914. He was injured twice, but made it through. While recovering from his second injury in hospital in England in 1916/17, he met my grandmother, so I guess I wouldn’t be here without the war.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 4, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

              Yes, my great-grandfather (I think that’s it, I get mixed up if great or great-great) was injured and traumatized in Gallipoli.

    • Doug
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      Of course that’s when it started! And WW 2 started in 1941. Just as America itself didn’t exist until 1492 [when white people found out about it] and the “Colonial Period” of American history starts with the first English colonies [ignoring the fact that there were Spanish colonies in what is now the US half a century before Jamestown]. History is written by the descendants of the winners.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        To be fair, even us Canadians often use 1939 for the year for WWII, when the Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans and others would claim earlier, due to what the Japanese were up to.

  10. Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I imagine that the set of all people who lived to be 180 would not have a lot of members… For some reason the UK education system at the time I first went to school had decided that learning the fundamental theory underlying mathematics, rather than such mundane things as addition and subtraction, was of crucial importance to primary school children. But, so far, the number of problems I’ve come across in life where knocking up a quick Venn diagram might be useful is minimal.

    • Alex
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      I went to secondary school in ’90, and it was very en vogue to do lots of “set theory” in fifth or even fourth grade, which really broke some people’s back.I didn’t have any trouble with it, but then I’m good at maths. Still, I’m not convinced it would have hurt my career as a physicist at all if I hadn’t done set theory in 5th grade, it seems just a tad too abstract to spend that much time on it that early on.

  11. Diane G.
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The war to end all wars. If only.

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    This would explain the spate of depressing WW1-related stuff on NZ TV at the moment. The whole thing (WW1) was the most appalling balls-up, and I’d much rather hear about more interesting bits of history. Or Venn diagrams. I guess I’m just not patriotic enough (but then I stand with Dr Johnson on that).

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Looking at those Venn diagram examples of Google’s reminds me of those ‘odd one out’ questions one used to get in junior school tests. You know the ones – “Which of the following is the odd one out: a. A whale b. An otter c. A penguin d. A polar bear”

    It always seemed to me that the criteria for distinguishing was quite arbitrary and I used to try and think of collections of four objects, of which a different one in turn was clearly and unambiguosly the ‘odd one out’ depending on the criteria used.
    It is surprisingly hard to find four separate criteria. Three is easy, the fourth tends to overlap with one of the other criteria.

    • Doug
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      This would be a good game! The whale is the only one that spends all its time in water; the penguin is the only non-mammal; the polar bear is the only one never found south of the equator; the otter is the only one that starts with a vowel.
      I’m not happy with the “otter” one, but it’s the best I could come up with. How many lists can we come up with?

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