M. R. O’Connor’s book Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World came out in April from St. Martin’s Press. Not coincidentally, she’s published a couple of pieces on the subject of that book, both of which focus on humans’ ability to pay attention to their surroundings, and the effect that relying on GPS directions might have on that ability. In a piece for Undark, O’Connor argues that “our unshakeable trust in GPS,” which traces itself back through hundreds of years of believing in the infallibility of maps, gets us lost because we’re relying on the device rather than our senses. Her piece for the Washington Post focuses on the role of the hippocampus in navigation and spatial awareness, and the need to exercise that part of the brain.
I’ve given the Map Books of 2019 page another update. At the moment it lists 31 books that have come out or are scheduled to come out this year. This list is always changing as publication schedules are adjusted and I learn about new books. As always, if there’s a book that should be on this list, let me know.
Our friend Alejandro Polanco’s latest project is The Minimal Geography Atlas, a collection of 40 thematic maps.
In my work as a map designer and science writer, I have collected over the past two decades hundreds of curious stories related to cartography or geography. These stories have seen the light of day in the form of hundreds of articles in magazines and blogs, as well as in posters or maps of very diverse types. Now, I’ve decided to compile my best maps and lesser-known but interesting curiosities from all that material I’ve collected over the years. The result is this book, an atlas designed to awaken your curiosity. The thematic maps that I have selected are part of the ones that I have created in the last years, improving them and adapting them for this book.
Alejandro is currently running a Kickstarter for the book. €18 gets you the digital edition, €65 the print edition (in softcover).
The Huffington Post excerpts some maps from The Golden Atlas: The Greatest Explorations, Quests and Discoveries on Maps, and talks a bit with the book’s author, Edward Brooke-Hitching. [WMS]
The British newspaper i looks at a recent rush of coffee-table map books, starting with DK’s History of the World Map by Map: they interview retired journalist Peter Snow, who wrote the introduction to that book. [WMS]
We’ve seen a flurry of pieces about the future of paper maps lately; that’s the jumping-off point for PBS News Hour’s interview with Betsy Mason, one of the co-authors of All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey, which I reviewed last month. [NYPL]
So far there are not many books listed, but that will change as the year progresses. Also keep in mind that publication dates shift all the time: keeping on top of those changes can be a sisyphean task, but I’ll do my best.
What works online does not necessarily translate very well into a book, but All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey (National Geographic, October), a very fine book from our friends Betsy Mason and Greg Miller, is strong evidence to the contrary.
For the last two and a half years, Betsy and Greg have written a blog of the same name for National Geographic; from 2013 to 2015 they did the same thing with Map Lab, a map blog for Wired. Their background with regard to maps is similar to mine: “We are not experts in cartography or its history; we’re journalists with a lifelong love of maps who were eager to learn more,” they write in the book’s introduction.
The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World (HarperCollins) is the flagship of the Times World Atlas line. (The others, in descending order of size and price, are the Concise, the Universal, the Reference, the Desktop and the Mini.)1 It’s the latest in a long line of Times atlases, tracing its heritage to the original 1895 atlas published by the Times and the 1922 Times Survey Atlas of the World produced by the venerable Scottish mapmaking firm, John Bartholomew and Son. Like its predecessors, it’s absolutely gargantuan: with the slipcase, it’s 47 × 32.5 cm (16.5 × 12.8 inches) in size and weighs 5.7 kg (12.6 lb). Only the National Geographic Atlas of the World is a little bit larger, and even it weighs less than the Comprehensive (4.5 kg or 9.9 lb).2
The 15th edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas came out on 6 September 2018 (and on 15 November 2018 in North America). HarperCollins has sent me a review copy, and I’ve been trying to come up with something to say about it.
We’ve talked about James Niehues before: the legendary artist has painted hundreds of maps of ski resorts and recreational areas since the late 1980s. I was excited to learn that he’s producing a coffee table book that includes all of his maps. It’s being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Pledging $75 or more gets you a copy of the book; other pledge levels get you a high-quality print. Clearly there’s some interest: at the moment the project has raised more than $223,000 from nearly 2,000 backers, 28 times its target of $8,000, with three weeks still to go. [Kottke]
On The Map Room’s Facebook page I was asked, in the context of this year’s gift guide, whether I had any suggestions for younger readers. All I could come up with was The Ultimate Mapping Guide for Kids. Writing in the Guardian, Vivien Godfrey of Stanfords does rather better than I did, providing a list of maps, books, games and puzzles for children. Very much British-focused. [WMS]
Edited by the historian of exploration Huw Lewis-Jones, The Writer’s Map is a collection of essays and maps that explore the relationship between maps and stories; the essays are written both by the creators of those stories—Cressida Cowell, Lev Grossman, Frances Hardinge, David Mitchell and Philip Pullman make appearances—and by the mapmakers who were inspired by those stories, such as Roland Chambers, Daniel Reeve and others. It also draws an important connection between travel and adventure stories of the past and modern fantasy, and explains why “here be dragons” is as much an attractant as it is a warning. Read my review.
Every year at about this time I post a gift guide that lists some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published this year. If you have a map-obsessed person in your life and would like to give them something map-related—or you are a map-obsessed person and would your broad hints to have a link—this guide may give you some ideas.
A total of 17 books are included in this year’s guide, loosely organized by theme. The focus is on books that are visual and of interest to the general reader;1 this does not even try to be a complete list of what’s been published this year. For that, check out the Map Books of 2018 page, which may suggest other gift ideas to you.
In my review Tuesday of Tom Harper’s Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library, I spent some time talking about the choices made when assembling a collection of maps. Susan Schulten’s third (solo-authored) book, A History of America in 100 Maps, out now from the University of Chicago Press in the Americas and the British Library in the U.K., also draws upon the British Library’s map collection, particularly in the early chapters. (This may come as a surprise, seeing as it’s a book about America.) In a few instances the same map makes an appearance in both books. But in terms of what the two books do with the maps, their approaches are quite different.
Schulten, a history professor at the University of Denver, is the author of The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950 (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Chicago Press, 2012). These are social histories of maps and mapmaking, which is very much my kind of thing, and I’ve been meaning to check out Schulten’s (and Martin Brückner’s) work for some time. From what I gather, Schulten’s work focuses on how maps were made and used—the function of maps.
Every year, at about this time of year, gorgeous hardcover collections of maps start appearing in bookstores. The timing is not coincidental: map aficionados need gifts bought for them, after all. But there’s something about these books, usually assembled from a single library’s massive collection, that’s worth thinking about. The British Library, for example, has more than four million maps in its vaults—how does an author preparing a book based on that collection decide which of those maps to include? (Some maps will be no-brainers: they cannot not be included.) And less obviously, but more critically, how do you organize the book, if it has no specific theme or focus? If you’re going to put out a book that says, essentially, “look at all these maps we’ve got locked up here,” you have to decide on some kind of order.
There are several ways to do it: Treasures from the Map Room, Debbie Hall’s 2016 collection of maps from the Bodleian Library (reviewed here), organizes itself by subject, for example. Whereas the book under consideration here, Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library (The British Library, 11 October), curated by the Library’s Tom Harper, organizes its many interesting and beautiful maps by continent. This is exactly the structure of a world atlas, and explains Harper’s choice of title. The chapters on each continent are bookended by chapters on the universe, world maps, seas and oceans, and fantasy worlds; and the continents are deliberately and pointedly arranged in alphabetical order, with Africa leading and Europe last.1
All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey (National Geographic, 30 October) is the book version of Betsy Mason and Greg Miller’s eponymous blog for National Geographic. Kenneth Field reviews the book on his blog; he notes that their background—journalists, not map professionals—makes for a refreshing perspective: “They aren’t burdened by having a list of maps that have to go in their collection (you know the ones … we all know them). They have chosen what they want to go in, and so their list is, in the main, a fresh list and contains many maps you’re unlikely to have seen.”
Another review of Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theatre of the World, this time from Geographical magazine, which calls it “a deeply idiosyncratic history of cartography, geography and surveying, from Stone Age symbols to Digital Age interactive maps. The meandering text features digressions on everything from Sumerian counting systems and ancient origin myths to Scandinavian border disputes, as well as some half-hearted imagined depictions of historical figures at work.” Theatre of the World came out in the U.K. from Hodder & Stoughton in September; the American edition will be published by Little, Brown in December. See previous entry.
I’ll have a review for you soon of Tom Harper’s Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library, which came out last month in the U.K. and comes to North America in the New Year. In the meantime, here’s G. T. Dempsey’s review on GeoLounge, which focuses on its full-page illustrations, “giving this near coffee-table-sized book more the nature of a gloriously annotated exhibition catalog.”
Related: Map Books of 2018.
In Scotland: Defending the Nation (Birlinn, 4 October), Carolyn Anderson and Christopher Fleet “explore the extraordinarily rich legacy of Scottish military mapping, including fortification plans, reconnaissance mapping, battle plans, plans of military roads and routeways, tactical maps, plans of mines, enemy maps showing targets, as well as plans showing the construction of defences. In addition to plans, elevations and views, they also discuss unrealised proposals and projected schemes. Most of the maps—some of them reproduced in book form for the first time—are visually striking and attractive, and all have been selected for the particular stories they tell about both attacking and defending the country.”
For more on the book, Chris Fleet has a post on the National Library of Scotland’s blog that focuses on maps made by military aggressors; and there’s a page on the NLS website with a sample chapter and images. [WMS]
Along with Manchester: Mapping the City (see previous entry), which came out at the same time, this is the latest in a series of map books from Birlinn, many of which focus on Scotland: see, for example, Scotland: Mapping the Nation (2012), Scotland: Mapping the Islands (2016), The Railway Atlas of Scotland (2015), and books about maps of Edinburgh (2014), Glasgow (2015) and the Clyde River (2017). There’s also a Scottish maps calendar for 2019.