Tableau, a data visualization company, presents the top five data visualizations of all time (see what they did there? -Ed.). This collection of historical works describes each one and is worth not just reading but studying. Even if you're not a student of data visualization, the history of their effects is fascinating. Here are two examples:
The London Cholera Map – John Snow
When cholera broke out in London no one knew what was causing it. This map pinpointed the source.
Napoleon’s March on Moscow – Charles Minard
When talk of war escalated in Paris in the 1860’s this map’s author wanted to highlight its true cost.