Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, February 17, 2021

up the river, down the river
Although I’m something of a history buff, I’m not much for the nuts-and-bolts study of military history. I’ll gladly take in the causes and consequences of conflicts like the American Civil War, and even of pivotal campaigns like the Battle of Antietam (which was more important than the more glammed-up Battle of Gettysburg, for those that don’t know). But detailed accounts of which regiment marched where, and which hill was held or not held, bores me to tears.

But I appreciate outside-the-box attempts to present such minutiae. So it is with Charles Joseph Minard’s brilliant graph representation of Napoleon’s march into and retreat from Russia in 1812. It manages to combine various broad data aspects — geographic movement, variable troop numbers, climate shifts — into one elegant visual.

Even a casual glance at the chart tells you the essence: A thick, treetrunk-like line starts at the left/West, steadily decreases as it flows rightward/East to represent the loss of men, then is replaced at Moscow by a thin black line that gets ever thinner as it crawls back across the page. You can even go so far as to declare it to be “the best statistical graphic ever drawn”.

Having done a fair bit of statistical visual plotting for publication, I envy Minard’s ability to nail this so perfectly. Definitely not as easy as it may look.

(Via Deep Market, which is using Minard as inspiration for its own market analyses)

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/17/2006 07:08:19 PM
Category: Creative, History, Science
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  1. I’ve always liked this map/picture. I’ve got the english/french version of it, I keep thinking I might hang it somewhere (but obviously haven’t).

    Tufte especially seems to like statistical and visual things that are old. ‘If they could visualize this several hundred years ago, why can’t they do it now?!?’ seemed to be a bit of his mantra. He’s an interesting guy, I’m glad I got a chance to see him talk (an all day thing about 2 or 3 years ago).

    Comment by Gary LaPointe — 02/18/2006 @ 09:32:48 PM

  2. I think it reflects a certain thought process that’s well outside the mainstream. The challenge is to translate it into a more universal form. That it’s so elusive probably explains Tufte’s frustration at seemingly having to reinvent the wheel over the centuries.

    Comment by CT — 02/19/2006 @ 02:55:03 PM

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