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.
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.
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.
It’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.
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 (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]
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.
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.
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 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.