In this episode we explore the political events that resulted in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the tragedy that formed the central events of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and which saw Napoleon raise the largest army in history up until that time, 500,000 – 700,000 men (historians vary on exactly how many there were).

Napoleon is often accused of being the instigator of this war (something Tolstoy, a Russian, was happy to suggest) but David and I examine the facts behind this perspective.

While this is a tragic and deeply moving period of Napoleonic history, it is also one of the most fascinating, both from a military and a humanist perspective.

Perhaps the best graphical representation of this unfortunate episode (or, in fact, one of the greatest use of informational graphics ever) is this image by French engineer Charles Minard.

Edward Tufte called it “the best statistical graphic ever drawn” and uses it as a prime example in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. (source)