Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Charles Minard’s Flow Map of Napoleon’s Campaign into Russia

… is generally considered one of the greatest infographics of all time. Although it is in French, it should be easily decipherable to the viewer in its portrayal of the size of the army as it traveled into, and the out of, Russia.

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The image is simple, but conveys a wealth of information. Beginning with a force of 422,000 men, Minard shows it slowly winnowed down to a force of 100,000 in Moscow, and then the brutal retreat with a mere 10,000 reaching the Niemen river. Rivers and major locations are depicted to provide geographical context, and with the retreat, the corresponding temperature is shown as well (although it is in the Réaumur scale, whatever that is…) to give a sense of the Russian winter.

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