Best Statistical Graph ever drawn in the Wild

Finals are over and I hope to post more regularly again. Here is a quick picture.

Napolean's March

This picture, by French engineer Charles Joseph Menard, graphically depicts Napolean’s fateful march to Russia. The width of the line represents how many troops Napolean had at each point on his way to Russia and what makes this graphic so great is just how many different variables are all displayed at once.

Edward Tufte says in his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, “Minard’s graphic tells a rich, coherent storhy with its multivariate data, far more enlightening than just a single number bouncing along over time. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army’s movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow”.

In the last line of the description below the graph, Edward Tufte says, “It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn,” which, in my opinion, may be the best claim ever made about a statistical graphic ever.

Cheers.

For Stanley:
Complete caption of the graphic:
“This classic of Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870), the French engineer, shows the terrible fate of Napolean’s army in Russia. Described by E. J. Marey as seeming to defy the pen of the historian by its brutal eloquence, this combination of data map and time-series, drawn in 1861, portrays the devastating losses suffered in Napolean’s Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the left on the Polish-Russian border near the Niemen River, the thick band shows the size of the army (422,000 men) as it invaded Russia in June 1812. The width of the band indicates the size of the army at each place on the map. In September, the army reached Moscow, which was by then sacked and deserted, with 100,000 men. The path of Napolean’s retreat from Moscow is depicted by the darker, lower band, which is linked to a temperature scale and dates at the bottom of the chart. It was a bitterly cold winter, and many froze on the march out of Russia. As the graphic shows, the crossing of the Berezina River was a disaster, and the army finally struggled back into Poland with only 10,000 men remaining. Also shown are the movements of auxiliary troops, as they sought to protect the right flank of the advancing army. Minard’s graphic tells a rich, coherent story with its multivariate data, far more enlightening than just a single number bouncing along over time. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army’s movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow. It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”

Posted on December 11, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very interesting. Is a larger picture available so that I can read the detail? Hope your exams went well.

    • I can’t seem to find a larger picture. I have a poster version of this in my apartment, so I’ll write out the whole description later tonight for you.

      Cheers.

  2. Michael McTague

    great poster…. could u tell where I could purchase one.
    thanks

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