much better than boop BEEP
This graphic I'm filching from Edward Tufte's website looks pretty good on my screen, and I hope it looks good on yours apres le cliquete-clique. If there's any chance it's not as good as it should be, it's worth a trip to the library to see a better representation of it in a big book.
It's just a chart like my silly boop BEEP Homeland Security chart, but people who are Into this sort of stuff unanimously believe that this is the greatest achievement in displaying a huge volume of complex information to the human brain via the eyeballs. (And notice immediately SVP that it was created by hand and mind long before any number-crunching assistance from our Silicon Friends.)
Only the passage of 194 years has bleached out one dimension, the emotional. No human being remains alive today with any direct memories of the event this graphic represents, but if you had been French in the first two-thirds of the 19th century, seeing this would very likely have caused you to begin weeping uncontrollably as soon as you realized what it was trying to show you. The more you comprehend this strange-looking chart, the more you would have wept.
But you are looking at a historical experience as horrifying as the European holocaust of the 1930s-1940s, something more horrible than the Balkan wars of the 1990s, something comparable to the Khmer Rouge genocide, a ghastly thing of historic proportions. Most people trying to communicate this horror would have tried to paint a picture like "Guernica," or would have resorted to photographs like those taken after the liberation of the concentration camps or in Abu Ghraib prison.
The military engineer Charles Joseph Minard (Dijon 1781 - Bordeaux 1870) was not trying to be more subtle. Quite the contrary -- he was trying to be far more horrifying than mere paintings or photographs can possibly be. He clearly burned with the need to say: This Is What Happened.
You can Rent The Video, though, for a more conventional attempt to communicate the horror of the Retreat of the Grand Armee of France from Napoleon's failed attempt to conquer Russia: There's about twenty minutes of the winter Retreat in Ridley Scott's "The Duellists" (1977). I recommend this wonderful film, but it's doomed to fail compared to Minard's graphic unless you watch it outdoors, mostly naked, in mid-January (Switzerland will probably do, you don't have to travel to Russia), and dripping wet from falling into a frozen river. You have to seriously risk death as a frozen corpse to really get a good idea of what the Retreat was actually like for real human beings.
Don't worry about Bonaparte, he bailed out and raced back to Paris in a fast coach with lots of fur rugs to keep him warm. This is just what happened to all his other soldiers. (This is what happens to most ordinary soldiers caught up in most grand schemes of Glory.)
More later, il faut faire les exercises.