Friday, December 28, 2007

A thousand words

John Moore captured some of the most compelling images of the Bhutto assassination, many presented here in an arresting narrated slide show at the NYT. To me, this photo made moments before the gunshots and bomb blast makes achingly clear why her death is such a huge loss for those who seek modernization and peace in the Islamic world.

Just as I was planning to post it, I came across another "worth a thousand words" example, this one an Economist article about three of the most important infographics in history. One charts causes of death of British soldiers in support of a Florence Nightingale crusade to improve conditions in barracks. Another combines time and money on two different axes in suggesting that the cost of wheat was too high compared to wages. "

The last is an example Edward Tufte described as "the best statistical graphic ever drawn. : an illustration that shows all manner of data about Napoleans advance and retreat from Moscow:

Minard's chart shows six types of information: geography, time, temperature, the course and direction of the army's movement, and the number of troops remaining. The widths of the gold (outward) and black (returning) paths represent the size of the force, one millimetre to 10,000 men. Geographical features and major battles are marked and named, and plummeting temperatures on the return journey are shown along the bottom.

The chart tells the dreadful story with painful clarity: in 1812, the Grand Army set out from Poland with a force of 422,000; only 100,000 reached Moscow; and only 10,000 returned. The detail and understatement with which such horrifying loss is represented combine to bring a lump to the throat. As men tried, and mostly failed, to cross the Bérézina river under heavy attack, the width of the black line halves: another 20,000 or so gone. The French now use the expression “C'est la Bérézina” to describe a total disaster.

1 comment:

  1. Tufte's use of Minard's grafic is perfect. It's the best grafic I've ever seen. Similarly, Tufte takes apart the overuse of PowerPoint. Once you read him on that subject, you'll never look at a PowerPoint project the same way again.