Title: MAP: Exploring the world
Author: Phaidon Press Limited
Date/Year: September 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 10.2 inches wide x 11.8 inches wide x 1.5 inches thick
Language: English (French is available through pre-order from Phaidon)
Phaidon Press Limited worked long and hard to compact a broad topic into a rolling visual summary of cartography with 300 maps and timeline.
After a well written intro by John Hessler (Specialist in Modern Cartography and Geographic Information Science Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress) the book begins with two facing geographic stories of the exaggerated perspective of the United States by a “New Yorker” told 37 years apart. Essentially cartograms of ego, they distort into cartographic hyperbole.
The vantage of these initial maps are analogous to the rest of the book. We look at the history of maps from the perspective of a satellite, remotely sensing from a high altitude into the past and also from a foreshortened and compressed subjectivity from our place in time.
This is a large book, so these maps and their detail are reproduced well. The color quality and resolution is greatly appreciated. However, those readers captivated by the detail of maps that were originally 6 feet in size will be frustrated by legibility that cannot be resolved. The maps are treated like objects in a museum show catalog and logically do not successfully convey the same depth of information when reduced to the scale of a book page. Like the treasure map for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island found on page 317, those readers will be inspired to hunt and dig for these map jewels in person.
Each map is accompanied by a summary of the map of about 250 words with a detailed captions with the name or title of map, the year it was made, the author or group that created the cartography, the original media used, the physical dimensions, and the location or collection the map depicted is housed if relevant. If each map received a longer one page summary, the book would have swelled to an ungainly 600 pages that would have broken the flow of this parade of maps.
The progression of the maps in the book appears ordered by some aesthetic and layout schema, but the rubric isn’t presented and there is no table of contents. The reader is expected to browse and linger. The index is comprehensive and the end of the book provides an excellent chronology that places every map in the book in context within the 17 pages of the Timeline of Cartography – including a thumbnail image of the map and footnote linking to the corresponding page in the text adjacent to it. A selected set of summary biographies precedes the glossary and a short list of recommended further reading. The book’s last two pages 351 & 352 list the extensive credits and acknowledgements needed for creating an atlas like this.
The timeline covers from circa 16,500 BCE to 2014 (last year) and the 300 maps in the book illustrate examples from about 700 BCE to 2014, or more than 2,700 years.
I’m not often drawn to part with my money for map history in large books as the prices never seem to be complemented by a breadth of content that is inclusive of many cultures or inspirational in content or context. This book was a welcome exception. The reproduction is high quality (with limits understood), succinctly organized, and relies upon the citations or contextual reference that helps the curious and tenacious cartophile to seek out more. I will use this book as a companion to other series on the history of cartography such as the Unversity of Chicago Press History of Cartography volumes. http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/HOC/index.html
Like a treasure map, I expect to consult it every time before traveling to see if any of the maps are in a view-able collection at my destination.