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On the Map: why the World Looks the Way it…

On the Map: why the World Looks the Way it Does (2012)

by Simon Garfield

Other authors: Dava Sobel (Foreword)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6744214,200 (3.74)1 / 15
  1. 20
    A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes (waitingtoderail)
    waitingtoderail: Does for book collecting what this book does for map collecting.
  2. 20
    Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt (John_Vaughan)
  3. 10
    A Little Book of Language by David Crystal (elenchus)
    elenchus: Garfield's On the Map and Crystal's A Little Book of Language share a similar approach to different subjects: each provides many short chapters on separate individual topics as means of surveying their field, history of cartography in the case of Garfield and the broad field of linguistics for Crystal. Each chapter is 4-5 pages, accompanied or separated by sidebars on related questions or facts. I enjoyed them both as galleries providing an overview and appetizer for further reading.… (more)
  4. 10
    The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (John_Vaughan)
  5. 10
    The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester (John_Vaughan)
  6. 00
    Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings (John_Vaughan)
  7. 00
    Never Eat Shredded Wheat: The Geography We've Lost and How to Find it Again by Christopher Somerville (John_Vaughan)
  8. 00
    London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets by Peter Ackroyd (John_Vaughan)
  9. 00
    Mapping for money : maps, plans and topographic paintings and their role in Dutch overseas expansion during the 16th and by Kees Zandvliet (marieke54)

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English (41)  Spanish (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This is an enjoyable read, written in a friendly style, a good overview of the development of modern mapping, and how maps, in turn, influenced people's thinking about their communities, their countries, and the world. The softcover edition was as richly and logically illustrated as you might expect from a book about mapping, though the maps were limited by size and by being monochrome, so some were hard or impossible to read, and some came across as less impressive then merited. ( )
  rp1543 | Mar 21, 2015 |
Amiable, intermittently fascinating and too comprehensive for its own good – On the Map is all over the map. When it's good, it's very good, at least if you're a chartophile like me, and it offers a rich storehouse of anecdotes on everything and everyone from Ptolemy to Skyrim. But as a single narrative it never really hangs together.

Did I know, before I read this, that the concept of ‘orienting’ oneself comes from the fact that medieval maps had east at the top? If I did, I'd forgotten it. And it's always fun to read about the kind of peoples that populated those early maps, not just dragons and sea monsters but exotic cryptozoologica from the Classical world like the sciapods (‘A mythical race of people supposed to have lived at the southern edge of the ancient Greek and Roman world, who each had a single leg ending in a foot of immense size with which they shaded themselves from the heat of the sun’ – OED).

Other oddities survived to the modern era. The Mountains of Kong first appeared on James Rennell's map of Africa in 1798 and were still being charted into the early twentieth century, despite the fact that they were a figment of Rennell's imagination. And even modern maps have deliberately invented features – every A–Z of London includes a so-called ‘phantom’, typically a remote cul-de-sac, which has no real-world correlative and is purely there for copyright purposes.

So far so good. But this book tries to do way too much. There is a chapter on Treasure Island, just because a map was vaguely involved. There is a chapter on Scott's expedition to the Antarctic. A crude map was indeed drawn of their route, but this is an incident from the history of exploration, not of cartography. There is a chapter on the boardgame Risk. By the time we got on to Martian canals and CT scans of brain tissue I was getting the distinct feeling that Garfield had let his remit slip away from him.

What I really wanted was a more focussed story that told me more about – for instance – the different projections that people have used to try and solve the problem of representing a spherical surface on a plane. I was actually expecting this evolution to be the bulk of the book, but in fact it's all crammed into one short section on Mercator.

It's all a bit of a shame, since a lot of the problems here could have been simply dealt with by judicious use of the backspace key during the editing process. Still, the writing is decent, the anecdotal value is high, and if you're prepared to skim through some irrelevancies there's a lot here to learn and enjoy. ( )
  Widsith | Dec 8, 2014 |
I was really expecting much from this book and came away slightly disappointed. I am a real maps lover. When I was 5, I owned my own atlas and it was my favorite book for a long time. You could seduce me into a discussion of the merits of different projections. I was really looking forward to reading this book and hoped it would be like "A Short History of Nearly Everything", but for maps.

Maybe I just hoped for too much. Some of the chapters were interesting enough. I learned some new facts about the history of mapping. But I found many chapters a bit boring, too long and lacking surprise. As a whole, the book felt too long and more like a collection of articles of varying style and length than a cohesive work. ( )
  teunduynstee | Oct 30, 2014 |
Nice subject. Unfortunately not well worked out. ( )
  leovanha | Jul 20, 2014 |
I picked up this book as a part of a challenge to read every Dewey Decimal number in the library. I picked it because out of all of the books on maps and mapping that were available, this one sounded as if it was going to be both educational and entertaining. I couldn't have picked a better book for the job. I loved being taken through the history of maps, from the first map, up into gaming technology of the modern day. Yes, I said gaming. Skyrim gets some attention in this book, as do movies like the Muppets and Casablanca.

Not being a serious map collector, I can't reflect on how this book would appeal to that type of hobbyist, but I can talk on my own perspective, that of someone who has always enjoyed looking at maps and planning ahead for my trips. I am the kind of person who plans to scrapbook every overlook and stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia and include history and maps of locations. I also plan to drive the path of the Trail of Tears. I don't study maps, I have fun with them and this was the perfect way to experience that sense of fun and usefulness while learning history at the same time. I was also completely captivated by the writing style, which easily had me cracking smiles as I enjoyed various sections.

It is hard to imagine anyone who is even the slightest bit curious about the subject matter not liking this book. It's even harder to imagine that someone who never thought this book existed could contain their curiosity. The only thing I regret about picking up the book is having to return it to the library when I was finished. ( )
  mirrani | Jun 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Mr. Garfield does not pretend to be a serious historian. (Neither did Ken Jennings, whose 2011 "Maphead" covered some of the same terrain.) His gift is for cherry-picking factoids, and his latest book, "On the Map," is full of little conversation pieces. But this book is diminished by the way it has been produced, with an alluringly tinted antique map of Africa on its cover and nothing but smudgy gray illustrations inside.
added by lorax | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Dec 18, 2012)
There is a great deal that is good and charming and fun about this book. But overall, Garfield seems like that most frustrated of soldiers, the general who has to deal in the field with a battle to be fought at that nightmare spot right in the middle of a swamp of information irrelevant to his needs, and where no soldier ever wants to be: He is floundering in a sea of facts, lost at the join of four maps.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Garfieldprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sobel, DavaForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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In December 2010, Facebook released a new map of the world that was as astonishing as it was beautiful.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159240779X, Hardcover)

Cartography enthusiasts rejoice: the bestselling author of Just My Type reveals the fascinating relationship between man and map.
Simon Garfield’s Just My Type illuminated the world of fonts and made everyone take a stand on Comic Sans and care about kerning. Now Garfield takes on a subject even dearer to our fanatical human hearts: maps.
Imagine a world without maps. How would we travel? Could we own land? What would men and women argue about in cars? Scientists have even suggested that mapping—not language—is what elevated our prehistoric ancestors from ape-dom. Follow the history of maps from the early explorers’ maps and the awe-inspiring medieval Mappa Mundi to Google Maps and the satellite renderings on our smartphones, Garfield explores the unique way that maps relate and realign our history—and reflect the best and worst of what makes us human.
Featuring a foreword by Dava Sobel and packed with fascinating tales of cartographic intrigue, outsize personalities, and amusing “pocket maps” on an array of subjects from how to fold a map to the strangest maps on the Internet, On the Map is a rich historical tapestry infused with Garfield’s signature narrative flair. Map-obsessives and everyone who loved Just My Type will be lining up to join Garfield on his audacious journey through time and around the globe.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:45 -0400)

Examines the pivotal relationship between mapping and civilization, demonstrating the unique ways that maps relate and realign history, and shares engaging cartography stories and map lore.

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