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Work details

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

  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: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World 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
    The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Does for the phenomenon of libraries what Garfield does for maps
  7. 00
    Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings (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 K. Zandvliet (marieke54)
  10. 00
    Never Eat Shredded Wheat: The Geography We've Lost and How to Find it Again by Christopher Somerville (John_Vaughan)

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English (49)  Spanish (1)  All (50)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Similar style to Garfield's previous book, Just My Type. The the history of the topic is given whilst various trajectories are taken and numerous anecdotes are mixed in along the way. It makes for an easy and entertaining read. So we start with the very earliest maps (normally featuring three blobs - Europe, Africa and Asia) and end with google maps. As Garfield tells the interesting story of map development we also learn about John Snow's early epidemiological map, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island map, the London A-Z, globe manufacturing and Sat Nav etc etc. These were fine, but the chapters about mapping the brain and canals on Mars seemed to be stretching it a bit in terms of relevance. Enjoyable though and loads of pictures (although black and white) to illustrate whichever old map he was writing about which added greatly to the reading experience. ( )
  Lord_Boris | Feb 21, 2017 |
For map lovers. ( )
  cookierooks | Nov 16, 2016 |
On the Map
Author: Simon Garfield
Publisher: Gotham Books
Published In: New York City, NY
Date: 2013
Pgs: 464


In a world without maps...how would travel work? How would land ownership work? The history of maps from early explorers through medieval times to satelittle maps on your smartphone. Maps align the way we think about our present and our past. Cartographic intrigue. Pocket maps. Strange maps. And how to fold maps. Maps. Maps. Maps. Maps. No...Monty Python did not write a book on maps. How maps came about. Who drew them. What they were thinking and how we use them. Maps show the progress of the world: sailing ships, triangulations, longitude, flight, internet, gps, heaven, hell, here be dragons.

Science and nature

Why this book:

The Feel:
It’s maps. It’s going places in your mind.

Favorite Scene / Quote:
What the Arab conqueror of Egypt said of the Library of Alexandria frightens me in the context of the religious fundamentalism of today. When speaking of the Library, he said, Caliph Omar said, “If the contents of the books are in accordance with the book of Allah, we may do without them, for in that case, the book of Allah more than suffices. If, on the other hand, they contain matters not in accordance with the book of Allah, there can be no need to preserve them. Proceed, then, and destroy them.” That reads like every book burners wet dream.

The author’s revelation on coming to an understanding of the Mappa Mundi: “And then it struck me: in 1290, unlike today, there seemed to be little left to explore, and no great wilderness or sea to detain you long. Unfathomable, sea monsters and great white polar silences only came later. The simple message here is: we’ve done our work in this place, for the inhabitable world is laid down on the back of a calf. So what remains for us mere mortals? Only miracles, a higher calling, and things forever beyond our grasp. Spread the word, pilgrims.”

The naming of lands, misnaming America after Amerigo Vespucci and such, but the best is the, possibly apocryphal, story of Hernando Cortez and his debarkation in the Yucatan. He brought natives onboard his ships and asked them what the land was called. Ma cu’bah than which the Spanish heard as Yucatan...today’s Mayan language experts believe that the Mayan who said Ma cu’bah than may have been saying “I don’t understand you.”

The J. M. Barrie anecdotes surrounding folding maps are funny. Especially when his frustration is added to the propensity of shop clerks to attempt to sell a folding map of London along with every purchase that he made around that time.

The section on guidebooks was interesting. Murray and Baedeker dominated the guidebooks of pre-WWI mapping of Europe and the world. Baedeker started the ubiquitous, today, star ranking system. The Nazis used the Baedeker star rankings to aim demoralization air raids during the Battle of Britain. In the interregnum, both Murray and Baedeker disappeared absorbed by other publishers. Pre-WW2 thru the postwar era, the guidebook market, largely, became the province of Michelin, Fodor, and Frommer. Michelin guidebooks to France were used by the invading Allies after the D-Day landings.

Hmm Moments:
Eratosthenes, Strabo, and Ptolemy, each genius in their own way, each working with what was done before, each lost in the destruction of Alexandria.

In the Dark Ages, the idea of a gridded map largely disappeared, replaced by the map as life, here is heaven, here is hell, here be dragons. In the 1450s, a lost and all but forgotten copy of one of Ptolmey’s atlases surfaced and saw a reprinting,. But, even with that, those Dark Ages of map making lasted a long while.

The Mappa Mundi while unique in appearance was not unique in subject matter. They were made across the European and Arab worlds. Though, as in the case of the Hereford Mappa Mundi, of more interest to the mapmakers than the world itself were the statements of philosophical, political, religious, encyclopedic, and conceptual concerns.

An Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, well traveled across the Arab and European worlds, and settled in the Norman court of Roger II of Sicily, made his masterwork devoid of the side stories, religious symbols and creatures of myth. Looking at his The Book of Pleasant Journeys to Faraway Lands, you can easily recognize Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. He provided the definitive of the Nile until Stanley’s explorations seven centuries later.

The mythic places that real explorers used to fill in and purported to be real were grabs at unearned prestige from the mapmakers who took the Mountains of Kong at the “explorers” word and placed them on maps for over half a century and onward to the voyages of Benjamin Morrell and his over 200 imaginary islands that survived into the 1900s. Whether these faux discoveries were perpetrated for reasons of mistaken coordinates, too much rum, “restless megalomania longing for posterity” we’ll never truly know. But these men did a disservice to map lovers, mapmakers, and the sailors who used those maps to cross the oceans.

Last Page Sound:
Wandered a bit there with Skyrim and GPS, but all in all, a good read.

Author Assessment:
Case by case basis. Loved the book, but it was the maps the drew me in.

Knee Jerk Reaction:
glad I read it

Disposition of Book:
Half Price Books. Not a re-read candidate.

Would recommend to:
genre fans, map fanatics
__________________________________________________​ ( )
  texascheeseman | Jul 28, 2016 |
A well written and enjoyable history of cartography. He covers everything you'd expect but with snippets of information you wouldn't. There are also interviews and original research that the author has done. At the end he covers maps in computer games; as far as I'm aware that is unique to this book. If there's one problem with the book it's the illustrations. They're all black and white and in some cases so small they're useless. This is of course the fault of the publisher, not the author, and may account for why I got my copy at 1/2 price. ( )
  Lukerik | Jul 27, 2016 |
So far so challenging. The anecdotes (aka short chapters and even shorter inter-chapter essays) just don't come together to mean anything - I can't find a point, an argument, a narrative, anything that enables me to feel as if I'm actually learning anything meaningful. Def. not mind-expanding yet - still waiting for the title to come true. About 2/3 through.

ETA/ done. The epilogue was the coolest chapter. But I never did find anything significant enough to be called mind expanding." It never did add up to answer the question "Why should I read this?" I mean, if you're truly fascinated by all things cartographical, no matter how trivial, you're reading and enjoying it just for the info. dump. I wanted more.

If you did like this, come to our discussion in Fans of Maps and help us appreciate it more! http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1184987-spring-2013-group-read---discussion

" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Het interessante van wereldkaarten is dat je altijd kunt zien uit welk deel van de wereld ze afkomstig zijn. Is de wereldkaart van Europese makelij, dan ligt Europa netjes in het midden. Amerika is het Verre Westen, China het Verre Oosten. Op Chinese wereldkaarten is China letterlijk het Rijk van het Midden en Amerika de Oriënt. Europa is een marginaal gebied aan de westrand. De oudste kaart van Chinese makelij dateert uit de 12de eeuw en heet toepasselijk 'De kaart van China en barbaarse landen'.

Wereldkaarten zijn ook politieke statements. Over het feit dat de aarde een bol is, bestaat tegenwoordig enige consensus. Echter: als je van een bol een platte kaart wilt maken, moet je met landoppervlakten gaan sjoemelen. De wereldkaart waarmee inwoners van westerse landen opgroeien, is gebaseerd op de klassieke projectie van Gerardus Mercator uit 1569.
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 editionscalculated
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:53 -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.

(summary from another edition)

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