(cross-post from Attestation Update)
A graph of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia shows the devastating losses suffered during the advance on Moscow and retreat. It is the best illustration I’ve seen of creatively presenting a complex body of information. Dare I say it is a beautiful graph? Why is this of interest to us? It shows a powerful way to communicate statistical data.
You can see the graph here at Cartographia. Click on the map to enlarge.
One sentence of explanation allows you to interpret the entire view – The width of the line is the proportionate size of Napoleon’s army at each point in the advance and retreat.
Additional tips for reading it. The brown line is the advance, black line the retreat. The graph at bottom shows the temperature at various stages of the retreat—no wonder the retreat was more devastating in percentage terms that the advance. It looks like the siege of Moscow was an inconsequential part of the losses on the campaign. On a percentage basis, the most devastating point was crossing the Berenzia River – that effort lost about 50% of the troops trying to cross.
The amount of data on this one chart is incredible. I was introduced to this graph in a book by Mr. Edward Tufte. Check out his books if you want some ideas on how to present data. I recommend The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
You can get a beautiful print of the map at Mr. Tufte’s web site.