Sunday, July 29, 2012

Best Graph Ever

I haven't added to this blog much lately, so I might as well post something different from my usual ramblings about music.

In 1869, Charles Joseph Minard published a graphic map depicting the march to, and retreat from, Moscow by Napoleon's army in the campaign of 1812/1813.  It tells quite a story.  19th-century French scientist √Čtienne-Jules Marey said that Minard's graph "defies the pen of the historian in its brutal eloquence"  Over a century later, statistician Edward Tufte opined that it "may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn."  It's certainly sobering once you realize what information Minard is presenting.  Take a look (click to enlarge):


You can click here for a larger view of the map than Blogger will let me provide.  I suggest taking a look at the larger picture - it will open in a new window.

The tan band represents Napoleon's army moving eastward, from the Polish/Russian border toward Moscow.  The size of the band corresponds to the number of men he had at each point of the march.  He began with 422,000 soldiers; he was down to 100,000 by the time he reached Moscow.  Parts of the French army split off from the main force at two locations.

The black band shows the army retreating westward, away from Moscow.  10,000 of the original 422,000 men lived to cross the border back into Poland.

The black "retreat" band is linked to a date and temperature graph along the bottom.  The temperature scale used was the R√©aumur scale, which used 0° as the freezing point and 80° as boiling.  It was 0° when the army left Moscow in the middle of October, 21 below zero (about -15 °F) by November 14, and -30 (about -35 °F) by December 6.

Minard has included more telling details.  Look what happens when the army has to cross a river.  The retreating army's crossing of the Berezina was particularly brutal; nearly half of the 50,000 troops on the east side of the river didn't make it to the west bank.

Minard's map is an amazing visual representation of what happened to Napoleon's army on this ill-fated campaign; it is stunning and horrifying.  Read it and weep - perhaps literally.

1 comment:

Bar Graph said...

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