The Ur-Infographic

I love a good infographic, but most infographics aren’t good.  They’re noisy, design-trend heavy, or worst of all they attempt to illuminate trivial topics.

Consider then, the following image.

Minard

This is the Ur-Infographic, believed to be the first one ever developed.  It was designed by a man called Charles Joseph Minard, a Frenchman from the mid-19th century.  He was trying to document the Napoleon’s losses in his campaign in Russia in 1812 where, over a course of several months, he lost something like 95% of his army to disease, cold, starvation, desertion and occasional enemy contact. It’s easy to read that statistic and be amazed, but I think this graphic does a sterling job of showing you what happened. As the Grande Armée heads east it begins losing strength almost from the word go; the return trip is devastating. This data is cunningly correlated with geographic information as well as the weather.

Have a close look at the image – there’s more to see than is immediately obvious.  Follow it up by reading Napoleon the Great, by Andrew Roberts, an excellent single-volume biography of Napoleon.

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