It’s ostensibly another quirky book about islands—there are, to be sure, a lot of them out on that subject—but Alastair Bonnett’s latest book has an urgency and pertinence to it that is belied by the relatively anodyne title it bears in its U.S. edition. Elsewhere: A Journey into Our Age of Islands makes it sounds like any other light travelogue with an innocuous point of view. Far better is the title it had for its original British edition: The Age of Islands: In Search of New and Disappearing Islands. Which is what it’s about: islands that have been created, and islands that are going away—by artificial and natural means.
Though when it comes to building islands, the artificial gets the bulk of Bonnett’s attention—but then people have been building islands at a rather brisk clip lately; volcanoes can’t keep up. Bonnett visits the various kinds, from the Netherlands’ polders to Dubai’s crass luxury archipelagos—and its imitators in Panama and Hainan—to China’s various military islands built up to buttress its claims to the South China Sea, to the expansion of Hong Kong’s airport. There’s a lot of money involved in these projects, not least because people pay a premium for proximity to the sea, but Bonnett repeatedly makes the point that climate change means these islands will be short-lived. “It’s odd, then, that building small flat islands in warmer latitudes is such big business. One day the dots will join.”1
In the book’s smaller second part, Bonnett turns to a consideration of islands that are disappearing. And while volcanoes, earthquakes and even nuclear tests can be the cause of islands being removed from the map, the main point here is anthropogenetic climate change. Bonnett travels from Panama’s San Blas Islands to Tonga to the Scilly Isles southwest of England to survey the imminent and the inevitable. The contrast is stark and deliberate. The map is being remade in both ways: islands are being built while others are on the brink of disappearing, but the benefits and damages are not evenly distributed. Bonnett does not pull his punches, but he is less angry than he ought to be. “We keep building islands even as natural islands are disappearing. The new ones are not very high and they are vulnerable to storms and sea-surges. Are we crazy?”2 The question more or less answers itself.
I received an electronic review copy of this book from the University of Chicago Press.
“I have a new mapping project on Kickstarter,” writes our friend Alejandro Polanco. “This time it is about recovering some exciting hand-drawn maps by a forgotten craftsman from the 19th century.” This is Alejandro’s second project to digitally recover a 19th-century illustrated book; this time his target is an 1890 edition of a treatise on topographical drawing by Juan Papell y Llenas. The book is full of detailed examples of mapping techniques done only with ink on paper. Alejandro’s restored edition, The Art of Hand-drawn Maps 1890, will be released this fall in digital (€18 pledge) and paper (€32) editions.
News about upcoming map books has been thin on the ground of late, which is hardly surprising given the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on the publishing industry as a whole. But in just the past two days we’ve seen three significant new book announcements.
Kenneth Field’s long-awaited Thematic Mapping: 101 Ways to Visualise Empirical Data, which takes as its starting point a map of a single event—the 2016 U.S. presidential election—will be out from Esri Press as an ebook on the 31st of August, Ken announced yesterday. Pre-order: Amazon (Canada, UK).
The Quarantine Atlas: Mapping Life under COVID-19 is the byproduct of CityLab’s 2020 project soliciting hand-drawn maps of life under quarantine (previously here and here). In the book version, Laura Bliss matches 65 of those submissions with original essays. Due out in April 2022 from Black Dog & Leventhal. Pre-order: Amazon (Canada).
I’ve updated the Map Books of 2021 page with these books; that page still looks awfully sparse compared with previous years. If there’s a map-related book coming out this year that I haven’t listed, please let me know.
Something I often do when reviewing a book is talk about it in terms of the expectations of its potential readers—particularly if readers might come to a book with expectations that the book does not meet, because the book is doing something different. If you’re expecting The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, written by the art historian Jessica Maier and published last November by the University of Chicago Press, to be basically A History of Rome in 100 Maps, it isn’t: the count is more like three dozen. This doesn’t mean that The Eternal City is a slight book—it most certainly is not, though at 199 pages it’s a bit shorter than, say, A History of America in 100 Maps (272 pages).
But counting maps would miss the difference in Maier’s approach. To invoke xkcd, this is depth-first rather than breadth-first: there are fewer maps here, but they’re discussed in much more depth than the two-page spreads of the hundred-map books, and provided with much more context. This is a history of Rome in maps in which history, Rome and maps all get their proper share of attention.
Matthew Edney reviews Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther’s When Maps Become the World (University of Chicago Press, 2020), a philosophy of science book that engages with maps and representation—with what Winther calls “map thinking.” Edney isn’t convinced by Winther’s approach: “Winther remains committed to outmoded and deeply flawed concepts of the nature of ‘the map’ that, to be honest, call into question the entire project.”
The Map Books of 2021 page is now live, but at the moment it has very few books listed. If there’s a book coming out in 2021 that should be on this page—basically, any and all books about cartography, maps and related subjects—please let me know. Ideally books should have a publication date (though I’m well aware that dates can move around a lot) and other details available, but I’ll work with what I can get.
Late last year Dan Ford launched a Kickstarter to create a board book (i.e., a children’s book printed on paperboard) about map projections called Map Projections for Babies. Presumably intended to be in the same vein as other board books on surprisingly advanced science topics (Chris Ferrie has a whole series of them; Quantum Computing for Babies is a typical title), Map Projections for Babies “explains how we unwrap the round Earth to make flat maps. This guide for babies (and their loved ones) describes a complex concept in kid-friendly terms. […] This project began last year, when I was inspired threefold by my daughter’s curiosity, my love for maps, and a growing number of board books that condense complex concepts for babies.” The Kickstarter was successful, the book is now at the printing stage and is on track for delivery in April; additional orders will be accepted at some point. [Geography Realm]
Alejandro Polanco’s latest Kickstarter project is the Pandemic Atlas. The idea, he says, “is to gather the most relevant information about the pandemics and major epidemics that have hit humanity throughout history to create an atlas in the visual style of my Minimal Geography project.” In 130 pages, the Pandemic Atlas explores major epidemics throughout history, and includes general chapters on heath subjects. The project’s inception actually predates the COVID-19 pandemic; it was initally inspired by the 100th anniversary of the 1918 pandemic, but at the time there was not much interest in the topic. Fast forward today, when an atlas about historical pandemics is just a little too topical.
The Pandemic Atlas Kickstarter runs through 24 February (it’s already met its goal). €20 gets you a digital copy of the atlas, €60 adds the hardcover.
I received as review copies the following books from the University of Chicago Press, both now available:
In The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, Jessica Maier “considers Rome through the eyes of mapmakers and artists who have managed to capture something of its essence over the centuries. Viewing the city as not one but ten ‘Romes,’ she explores how the varying maps and art reflect each era’s key themes. Ranging from modest to magnificent, the images comprise singular aesthetic monuments like paintings and grand prints as well as more popular and practical items like mass-produced tourist plans, archaeological surveys, and digitizations.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop
Edited by Kären Wigen and Caroline Winterer, Time in Maps: From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era collects nine essays on the “ingenious and provocative ways” maps have attempted to depict time. “Focusing on maps created in Spanish America, Europe, the United States, and Asia, these essays take us from the Aztecs documenting the founding of Tenochtitlan, to early modern Japanese reconstructing nostalgic landscapes before Western encroachments, to nineteenth-century Americans grappling with the new concept of deep time.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop
Out last month from Princeton Architectural Press: A Slice Through America: A Geological Atlas by David Kassel. This is a history of stratigraphic illustrations, which Kassel has been collecting for decades. “Historic stratigraphic illustrations depict the earth beneath our feet in captivating hand-drawn diagrams. Each drawing tells a unique geologic story, exquisitely rendered in colors from pastel palettes to brilliant bolds that show evolving scientific graphic conventions over time. Created by federal and state geologists over the course of one hundred years, the maps reveal sedimentary rock layers that present an unexpected view of our treasured public lands, making this collection an important record of natural resources, as well as a beautiful display of map design.” Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop.
The British Cartographic Society’s 50th anniversary book, which came out in 2013, is now available as a free download (68 MB PDF). “This beautiful book, lavishly illustrated with over 130 maps, is presented in double-page map spreads for each year from 1963 to 2013, one map illustrating a UK event and the an overseas event for each of the fifty years.”
Out tomorrow from Johns Hopkins University Press, Alida C. Metcalf’s Mapping an Atlantic World, circa 1500 explores how sixteenth-century European maps conceptualized a new, Atlantic-centred world. From the publisher: “Metcalf explains why Renaissance cosmographers first incorporated sailing charts into their maps and began to reject classical models for mapping the world. Combined with the new placement of the Atlantic, the visual imagery on Atlantic maps—which featured decorative compass roses, animals, landscapes, and native peoples—communicated the accessibility of distant places with valuable commodities. Even though individual maps became outdated quickly, Metcalf reveals, new mapmakers copied their imagery, which then repeated on map after map. Individual maps might fall out of date, be lost, discarded, or forgotten, but their geographic and visual design promoted a new way of seeing the world, with an interconnected Atlantic World at its center.” [WMS]
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