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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.