A Book Review Roundup

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.

Scotland: Defending the Nation

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.

More from (and on) The Writer’s Map

On Monday I received a review copy of The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, a collection of essays edited by Huw Lewis-Jones. It’s out this week from the University of Chicago Press. It’s very much up my alley, relevant to my interests, et cetera, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it, though the to-be-reviewed pile it’s sitting on top of is getting very large.

In the meantime, another book excerpt has been reprinted online: Literary Hub has Lev Grossman’s wide-ranging piece on fantasy maps. It joins the essays by David Mitchell, Frances Hardinge, Robert Macfarlane and Miraphora Mina we’ve seen before. The book isn’t all text, though: as you might expect, there are rather a lot of maps in it. Those maps are the focus of Atlas Obscura’s look at the book.

Previously: David Mitchell on Starting with a Map; Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map.

The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book

Today is the publication date for The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book (Trapeze), a collection of map quizzes and puzzles—a “mix of navigational tests, word games, code-crackers, anagrams and mathematical conundrums” contrived by Gareth Moore—based on some 40 Ordnance Survey maps dating as far back as 1801. It’s out in the U.K. only; North Americans will have to try third-party sellers on Amazon (or elsewhere) or order directly from British vendors.

The Lost Art of Finding Our Way

Book Cover: The Lost Art of Finding Our WayIt’s become a commonplace that modern technology has eroded our ability to navigate: that relying on GPS and smartphones is destroying our brains’ abilities to form cognitive maps and that we’d be utterly lost without them.1 I’m not sure I subscribe to that point of view: plenty of people have been getting themselves lost for generations; relying on an iPhone to get home is not much different from nervously having to follow someone’s scribbled directions without really knowing where you’re going.

For my part, I can’t get lost. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for me to get lost: that has, in fact, been known to happen. I mean that I can’t allow myself not to know where I am under any circumstances. I’ve got a pretty good cognitive map, but if I’m in a strange city without a map of said city, I’m deeply uncomfortable if not upset; provide me with a map to get my bearings with and I’m immediately at ease. In my case, having an iPhone—with multiple map applications—means I don’t have to get to the nearest map outlet as soon as freaking possible. It’s not, in other words, an either-or situation.

John Edward Huth is firmly in the former camp. He’s a particle physicist at Harvard who’s worked on the Higgs boson who for years has been running an interesting side gig: he teaches a course on what he has called “primitive navigation”—the ancient means of navigating the world that existed prior to the advent of some later technology. The course, and the accompanying book, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2013), are an exercise in recapturing those methods.

Continue reading “The Lost Art of Finding Our Way”

Mapping Society

Laura Vaughan’s Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography (UCL Press, 3 September) “traces the evolution of social cartography over the past two centuries. In this richly illustrated book, Laura Vaughan examines maps of ethnic or religious difference, poverty, and health inequalities, demonstrating how they not only serve as historical records of social enquiry, but also constitute inscriptions of social patterns that have been etched deeply on the surface of cities.” Available in the U.K. in hardcover (£45) or paperback (£25), but you can also download the PDF for free: the book is published under a Creative Commons licence.

Manchester: Mapping the City

Manchester: Mapping the City (Birlinn, 4 October), the latest in Birlinn’s line of cartographic histories, is the result of years of research and collecting by authors Terry Wyke, Brian Robson and Martin Dodge. “This book uses historic maps and unpublished and original plans to chart the dramatic growth and transformation of Manchester as it grew rich on its cotton trade from the late 18th century, experienced periods of boom and bust through the Victorian period, and began its post-industrial transformation in the 20th century.” The book’s home page has sample chapters and links to Mancunian maps online. More from the University of Manchester. [Tony Campbell]

The Limits to Mapping

The Limits to Mapping,” a talk Matthew Edney gave at Yale University last week as part of the Franke Program series of lectures, is now available on YouTube.

Edney, who’s Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine and the director of the History of Cartography Project (his name’s come up before), also has a new book coming out next year: Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (University of Chicago Press) is apparently an argument about how problematic cartography as an all-encompassing concept is, which ought to make for an interesting read.

Essays on Literary Maps: Treasure Island, Moominland and the Marauder’s Map

Another excerpt from the forthcoming book The Writer’s Map, this time in the Guardian, in which three authors talk about their favourite literary maps: Robert Macfarlane on the map in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Frances Hardinge on the map of Tove Jansson’s Moominland, and Miraphora Mina on the Harry Potter Marauder’s Map. In each case the maps are points of departure: Macfarlane gets all scholarly and theoretical, Hardinge and Mina more personal.

Previously: David Mitchell on Starting with a Map.

Theatre of the World

In The Spectator, Travis Elborough reviews Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theatre of the World: The Maps that Made World History (Hodder & Stoughton, 6 September). This is a translation (by Alison McCullough); the original book appeared in Norwegian as Verdensteater: Kartenes historie last year. Elborough, who is himself an author of map books,1 calls the book “impressively global and touchingly parochial, as his native Norway and Scandinavia in general often and unashamedly take centre stage in the narrative. (A note in the foreword explains that the book has to a certain extent been de-Norwegianised for the English edition.)” But then he goes on to lament the omission of thoroughly British-centric content. Go figure.

Theatre of the World is out now in the U.K.; the U.S. edition, published by Little, Brown, and with its title thoroughly Americanized as Theater of the World, comes out on December 4th.

Related: Map Books of 2018.

The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada

The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada is finally on the verge of publication. First announced in June 2017, and unveiled in its final form in June 2018 (Canadian Geographic, CBC News, Ottawa Citizen, press release), the atlas is a massive project several years in the making and involving input from indigenous communities across Canada. The result of a collaboration between the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis Nation, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and Indspire, the atlas project includes a four-volume physical atlas, an online version, and additional teaching resources, including new giant floor maps from Canadian Geographic.1

The physical atlas’s four volumes include one for First Nations, one for the Inuit, one for the Métis, and one focusing on Truth and Reconciliation. It has a list price of C$99.99 (online sellers will have it for less) and comes out in one week, on September 25th: Amazon. A French-language version comes out next month, on October 23rd: Amazon.

The online version of the atlas has the text but very little in the way of maps: I can only assume that this is not the case for the book versions. The companion app, for iOS and Android, does little more than link to the web version and includes a location finder for land acknowledgment.

The news buzz about this atlas in this country is considerable: see recent coverage from the Canadian Press, CBC News and the Globe and Mail. This looks to be a cultural watershed event the likes of which I have not seen since the publication of The Canadian Encyclopedia in 1985. I expect a lot of copies to be sold.

How to Lie with Maps, Third Edition

Mark Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps has always been about how to read maps, not how to make them. The map-using public is inclined not only to believe what’s on the map, but to trust it: why would so many people willingly drive their cars into ditches, if they didn’t trust their cars’ navigation systems more than their own eyes? Monmonier prescribes “a healthy skepticism” about maps, and this book is a tool to that end: “I want to make readers aware that maps, like speeches and paintings, are authored collections of information and are also subject to distortions arising from ignorance, greed, ideological blindness, or malice.”1 The book is essentially a cheat sheet, showing all the ways that maps can be made to shade, or at the very least, select the truth. At the minimum, mapmakers must decide what to include or exclude, and those decisions may not necessarily be honest or fair.

The first edition of How to Lie with Maps came out in 1991, the second in 1996. (See my review of the second edition here.) Since then the cartographic landscape is much changed: the map a person may use most frequently may come via their phone rather than paper. But the advice found in this book is still valid. What goes for a paper map is still relevant to the map you call up on your iPhone. And so now, 22 years later, we have a third edition of How to Lie with Maps, which came out from the University of Chicago Press last April. For the most part it’s familiar territory. Other than a nip and tuck here and there and a few new chapters at the end, it’s largely the same book it was in 1996. How does it measure up in the present moment?

Mostly well, with some caveats. The core message of How to Lie with Maps will not become obsolete until maps do, which is to say never; but the examples and emphases are starting to become a bit dated. The reader might have to do a little more work in some cases to see the applicability of a chapter—to translate it into familiar terms—but that effort will be rewarded. For example, I think that everyone working with web-based maps should become quite familiar with chapter 3, “Map Generalization,” for its insights on what to include and exclude at different scales. The chapter on data maps, discussing the use of choropleths, cartograms and other data visualizations, is absolutely essential: so many of the maps being circulated as memes are data maps of some kind, and anything that improves the critical eye with regard to such maps is going to help.

But that chapter on data maps does get a bit lost in the weeds, especially for the general reader. And I’d have liked to have seen something on heat maps akin to this xkcd cartoon:

Bad internet maps have been described as a “social media plague”: they’re popular, they’re insidious, and they’re often not even wrong. But they’re not specifically dealt with in How to Lie with Maps, and that’s a blind spot: in the era of fake news, hoaxes and state-sponsored mendacity, maps that go viral are the ones most in need of a vaccination campaign.

Instead, the new chapters focus on image maps (satellite and aerial imagery), prohibitive cartography (which seems out of place here, and seems more a summary of Monmonier’s other work) and “fast maps,” which is more about web-based mapping than the stuff that gets shared on social media. The new chapters are noticeably more concise than the old. The net effect is a book that is still important, still relevant and still badly needed, but whose updates don’t quite bring it up to the present.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Amazon | iBooks

Maps of London and Beyond

Adam Dant’s Maps of London and Beyond (Batsford, 7 June) is a collection of the artist’s “beautiful, witty and subversive” maps. From the publisher: “Traversed by a plethora of colourful characters including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mary Wollstonecraft and Barbara Windsor, Adam Dant’s maps extend from the shipwrecks on the bed of the Thames to the stars in the sky over Soho. Along the way, he captures all the rich traditions in the capital, from brawls and buried treasure to gin and gentlemen’s clubs.”

Dant’s maps have been appearing on the Spitalfields Life blog for several years: start with this post and follow the links. They’re also the subject of at least two exhibitions in London right now: one at The Map House, which runs until the 14th; and one at Town House, which runs until the 22nd.

A second book by Dant, Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified, comes out in October from Chronicle. [Mapping London]

History of Cartography Project’s Sixth Volume Now Available Online

The History of Cartography Project’s sixth volume, covering the twentieth century, came out three years ago. Edited by Mark Monmonier, it comprised two physical books and nearly two thousand pages and had a list price of $500. That physical edition is still available (e.g. on Amazon), but as of this month it’s available online for free in PDF form, like the first three volumes in the series. (Volumes four and five are still being prepared; volume four, covering the European Enlightenment, is slated to arrive in 2019.) [NLS]

A Collection of Rand McNally Road Atlas Covers

The Rand McNally Road Atlas has long been a staple of North American travellers. The company—still around—is celebrating the atlas’s 95th edition by putting out a retrospective volume of the road atlas’s covers: American Journey: A Treasury of Rand McNally Road Atlas Covers (Rand McNally, 3 June) is a slim hardcover volume: 96 pages, enough for one page per edition. CNN Travel has coverage. [WMS]