In Search of Lost Islands

Three books look at islands that never were.

We expect maps to tell the truth; indeed we need them to on a fierce and primal level. “I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe,” wrote Charles Blow last fall; he was writing in response to Trump’s petty defacement of a hurricane forecast map with a marker. The reaction to Trump’s stunt, was, I thought, revealing. It’s part and parcel with what Matthew Edney refers to as the ideal of cartography: striving toward a universal, unbiased and perfect map.

When a map has a mistake on it, when it’s wrong, it does something funny to our heads. We obey our phones and dashboard GPS navigators even when they send us off a cliff. We concoct nutty theories about ancient civilizations because a 16th-century portolan chart had a funny bend on a coastline. We wonder, because someone wrote “here be dragons” on a map, whether dragons were actually real. We make brain pretzels trying to force maps to be truthful even when they are manifestly wrong.1

Maps have to tell the truth. They simply have to. Maybe that’s why stories about mistakes on the map, and the havoc those mistakes cause, fascinate us so much. Which brings me to three books, all published for the first time in 2016, that talk about map errors of an older kind: islands and other features that appeared on maps, sometimes for centuries, that in the end turned out not to exist.

Continue reading “In Search of Lost Islands”

Now Live: The Map Books of 2020 Page

The Map Books of 2020 page is now live. It lists all the books scheduled to come out this year—at least the ones I’m aware of. I’ll do my best to keep this page as up to date as possible. If there’s a book coming out in 2020 that should be on this page, let me know: I’m keen to find out about any and all books on cartography, maps and related subjects that are in the works.

Map Books of 2020 (header image)

Check Out These Other Gift Guides

If The Map Room’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide still leaves you wanting for ideas, and the additional books in the Map Books of 2019 page don’t do it either—maybe you just don’t want a book—here are some other map-related gift guides curated by colleagues and reviewers:

Over at Map Dragons, Betsy Miller posts 10 Great Gifts for Map Lovers that include not just books, but posters, wallpaper, notebooks and even rugs. Many items, like Eleanor Lutz’s Atlas of Space, Jim Niehues’s book of ski resort maps, and Anton Thomas’s still-forthcoming pictorial map of North America, will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

Mapping London’s Christmas list focuses on recent books about maps of London, as you might expect.

The New York Times’s Tina Jordan looks at recent map books, starting, as you might expect, with the latest National Geographic Atlas of the World (“If you’re going to buy just one atlas this fall . . . ”). Her list also includes a couple of 2019 releases I somehow managed to miss:

Book cover: An Atlas of Geographical WondersAn Atlas of Geographical Wonders: From Mountaintops to Riverbeds (Princeton Architectural Press, September), by Gilles Palsky, Jean-Marc Besse, Philippe Grand and Jean-Christophe Bailly, explores nineteenth-century scientific maps and tableaux, beginning with those by Alexander von Humboldt.

Also from September, Infinite Cities (University of California Press), a boxed set of Rebecca Solnit’s trilogy of atlases of San Francisco, New Orleans and New York.

2019 Holiday Gift Guide

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 like your broad hints to have something to link to—this guide may give you some ideas.

As before, this guide is organized loosely by theme. Its focus is on books of interest to the general reader: even though a lot of good academic work was published this year, it’s not the sort of thing to put under the tree. I’ve been maintaining a somewhat more complete list of books published over the year at the Map Books of 2019 page.

Also, this is not a list of recommendations: I haven’t even seen most of the books on this list, much less reviewed them (this has not been a good year for my reviewing). These are simply books that, based on the information available, seem fit for giving as gifts.

Anyway. Onward!

The Writer’s Map Wins a World Fantasy Award

The Writer’s Map (cover)The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, which I reviewed on Tor.com last year, has won a World Fantasy Award for its editor, Huw Lewis-Jones.

The 2019 World Fantasy Awards were announced yesterday at the World Fantasy Convention, held this year in Los Angeles; Lewis-Jones won in the Special Award—Professional category.

Winners in each category are decided by a panel of judges.

Previously: The Writer’s Map; More from (and on) The Writer’s Map; Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map; David Mitchell on Starting with a Map.

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps (Thames & Hudson, October) is a look back at Booth’s idiosyncratic and judgey block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London (his maps described the “lowest class” as “vicious, semi-criminal,” for example). The final maps, hand-coloured, are famous in map terms: there was an exhibition back in 2011. The book adds preparatory maps, “selected reproductions of pages from the original notebooks, containing anecdotes related by Londoners of every trade, class, creed and nationality together with observations by Booth’s interviewers that reveal much about their social class and moral views.” Plus essays and infographics to put the whole thing in a modern context. Mapping London has a review.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

The Atlas of Boston History

The Atlas of Boston History (book cover)The Atlas of Boston History, edited by Boston historian Nancy S. Seasholes, came out last week from the University of Chicago Press. It features 57 full-colour spreads—for a complete list, plus some examples, go here—that trace the city’s history from the post-glacial period to the present day through maps, photos, illustrations and accompanying text from three dozen different contributors. (The maps are original to this volume: this is a historical atlas, not a collection of old maps, in case that needs saying.) Looks impressive and interesting.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

New Editions of World Atlases

World atlases are still a thing, and the first of this month saw the publication of two new editions of venerable world atlases.

First, the National Geographic Atlas of the World, a new edition of which comes out every four years. This year’s is the 11th.

I have to confess that I’m fond of the National Geographic: compared to other atlases it does its own thing with political maps that eschew coloured relief and explain every little boundary dispute and controversy in little red letters. It’s also enormous, larger in dimension than the Times Comprehensive (though not as heavy) and with a list price of $215/£170 is slightly more expensive. National Geographic’s page doesn’t go into detail as to what changes were made for the 11th edition, which is a pity. (Does it have Eswatini and North Macedonia, for example?)

The Oxford Atlas of the World is a lot smaller and more affordable. At $90, it slots between the Times Universal and Concise atlases in terms of list price, though its page count is that of the more expensive Concise. It’s also updated every year; this year’s edition is the 26th. And the publisher’s page does list some of the updates. (Eswatini and North Macedonia? Yes!)

As for the Times line of atlases, the most recent to be updated was the third-tier Times Universal Atlas ($50/£80), the 4th edition of which came out in August. Prior to that, the 5th edition of the affordable Times Desktop Atlas ($35/£20) was released in February. The 15th edition of the top-of-range Times Comprehensive Atlas ($200/£150) came out in the fall of 2018: I reviewed it here.

Out Today: Airline Maps

Airline Maps

Out today: Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design (Particular Books/Penguin), Mark Ovenden and Maxwell Roberts’s book about the history of the airline map—those maps showing where an airline flies that you often see in in-flight magazines.

Hundreds of images span a century of passenger flight, from the rudimentary trajectory of routes to the most intricately detailed birds-eye views of the land to be flown over. Advertisements for the first scheduled commercial passenger flights featured only a few destinations, with stunning views of the countryside and graphics of biplanes. As aviation took off, speed and mileage were trumpeted on bold posters featuring busy routes. Major airlines produced highly stylized illustrations of their global presence, establishing now-classic brands. With trendy and forward-looking designs, cartographers celebrated the coming together of different cultures and made the earth look ever smaller.

CityLab has an interview with Ovenden and Roberts about their book. One exchange stuck out:

But some of the maps in the book are really geometric and straightforward, like transit maps. I’m wondering, how are these airlines dealing with some of the problems of transit maps? For instance, how do you get a lot of lines to a central station, or a hub in terms of air travel?

Roberts: I’m not sure that they do. I’ve actually looked closely at a lot of these airline maps and tried to get my head around them, and actually some make no sense at all. They’re essentially unusable. And that’s the big irony with airline maps: Nobody’s ever used an airline map to plan a journey.

It seems to me that this is because airline maps aren’t transit maps, they’re pictorial maps. Pictorial maps were about promotion and decoration, not navigation.

Ovenden is known to us here at The Map Room: he’s published books about transit map design such as Transit Maps of the World (2007, updated 2015), Paris Underground (2009) and (Great) Railway Maps of the World (2012). Roberts is the author of Underground Maps After Beck (2005) and Underground Maps Unravelled (2017). Taking to the air is a bit of departure for both authors, then.

For another book on this subject, see Paul Jarvis’s Mapping the Airways, which came out in 2016 (previously).

Book of Niehues Ski Resort Art Now Available

The Man Behind the Map, the coffee table book of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps whose crowdfunding campaign I told you about last year, is now available for sale.

The Man Behind the Maps (cover)The book is nearly 300 pages long, contains more than 200 ski resort maps, and costs $90. That seems high, but printing a full-colour book in small or print-on-demand batches doesn’t come cheap.

Previously: Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art; A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa (New Zealand)

Today* is the publication date for We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa (Massey University Press), a visual atlas of New Zealand by geographer Chris McDowall and designer Tim Denee. An excerpt of the book can be viewed online here. The authors have open sourced the code and data that went into making the book: it’s all available here.

* Well, yesterday: it’s already tomorrow in New Zealand.

The Atlas of Unusual Borders

Out today: Zoran Nikolic’s Atlas of Unusual Borders (Collins), a book that “presents unusual borders, enclaves and exclaves, divided or non-existent cities and islands.” Another compendium of geographical curiosities: a genre we’ve seen before (see, for example, the Atlas of Improbable Places, Atlas Obscura, the Atlas of Remote Islands, the Atlas of Cursed Places, Beyond the Map or Unruly Places/Off the Map) except this time it’s about borders.

Cartography: The Ideal and Its History

Matthew H. Edney’s Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (University of Chicago Press, April) is a full-throated jeremiad against the concept of cartography itself—the ideal of cartography, which after 237 densely argued pages Edney says “is quite simply indefensible.” Or as the subtitle to the first chapter states: “There is no such thing as cartography, and this is a book about it.”

On the surface this is a startling argument to make, particularly for Edney, who holds two roles that are very much about cartography and its history: he’s the Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine (where, among other things, he’s affiliated with the Osher Map Library) and the current director of the History of Cartography Project. With this book, Edney is essentially undermining the foundations of his own profession.

Continue reading “Cartography: The Ideal and Its History”

Estonia’s National Atlas Coming Next Month

Estonia’s first national atlas is coming next month, ERR News reports. Among its 500-odd maps “will also be less serious themed maps, such as the spread of kama and blood sausage in Estonia, a map of 1938 with the birthplaces of the Estonian elite, and a map of the location of public saunas in 1967.” The atlas will be published in Estonian and English.

Monmonier’s Latest: Connections and Content

Mark Monmonier’s latest book, Connections and Content: Reflections on Networks and the History of Cartography (Esri Press, August ebook/September paperback) is about “the relationships between networks and maps”—what does that mean? Apparently: triangulation networks, postal networks, telegraph networks survey networks, astronomical observations and other underlying data. Steven Seegel interviews Monmonier about the book for the New Books in Geography podcast. [Amazon]