Best infographic ever.

Strange Maps is one of my favorite blogs. The Strange Maps WordPress site may be the first WP blog I ever read. The map below is from one of my all-time favorite Strange Maps posts. I first read it post back in 2007, and it’s stuck with me all these years.


The map depicts the strength of Napoleon’s forces during his 1812-13 invasion of Russia. The brown line represents his advance to Moscow and the black represents his retreat. (Click the image to see the full-sized version.) Here’s some information from the original post that explains just what an ingenious piece of work this graphic is:

The chart, or statistical graphic, is also a map. And a strange one at that. It depicts the advance into (1812) and retreat from (1813) Russia by Napoleon’s Grande Armée, which was decimated by a combination of the Russian winter, the Russian army and its scorched-earth tactics. To my knowledge, this is the origin of the term ‘scorched earth’ . . .

. . . the map unites six different sets of data.
• Geography: rivers, cities and battles are named and placed according to their occurrence on a regular map.
• The army’s course: the path’s flow follows the way in and out that Napoleon followed.
• The army’s direction: indicated by the colour of the path, gold leading into Russia, black leading out of it.
• The number of soldiers remaining: the path gets successively narrower, a plain reminder of the campaigns human toll, as each millimetre represents 10.000 men.
• Temperature: the freezing cold of the Russian winter on the return trip is indicated at the bottom, in the republican measurement of degrees of réaumur (water freezes at 0° réaumur, boils at 80° réaumur).
• Time: in relation to the temperature indicated at the bottom, from right to left, starting 24 October (pluie, i.e. ‘rain’) to 7 December (-27°).

Pause a moment to ponder the horrific human cost represented by this map: Napoleon entered Russia with 442.000 men, took Moscow with only 100.000 men left, wandered around its abandoned ruins for some time and escaped the East’s wintry clutches with barely 10.000 shivering soldiers. Those include 6.000 rejoining the ‘bulk’ of the army from up north. Napoleon never recovered from this blow, and would be decisively beaten at Waterloo under two years later.

A little background on the map itself, and a translation of the legend:

The map was the work of Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870), a French civil engineer who was an inspector-general of bridges and roads, but whose most remembered legacy is in the field of statistical graphics, producing this and other maps in his retirement. This is a translation of the legend at the top of the map:

Figurative chart of the successive losses in men by the French army in the Russian campaign 1812-1813. Drawn up by Mr Minard, inspector-general of bridges and roads (retired). Paris, 20 November 1869.

The number of men present is symbolised by the broadness of the coloured zones at a rate of one millimetre for ten thousand men; furthermore, those numbers are written across the zones. The red signifies the men who entered Russia, the black those who got out of it.
The data used to draw up this chart were found in the works of Messrs. Thiers, de Ségur, de Fezensac, de Chambray and the unpublished journal of Jacob, pharmacist of the French army since 28 October. To better represent the diminution of the army, I’ve pretended that the army corps of Prince Jerôme and of Marshall Davousz which were detached at Minsk and Mobilow and rejoined the main force at Orscha and Witebsk, had always marched together with the army.

This Economist article, also linked in the original post, discusses the Minard map and several other very interesting infographics.


One thought on “Best infographic ever.

  1. Pingback: Tolstoy As Villain: Tolstoy, Tolstory, Tall Story | Wandering Mirages

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