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Maps: Finding Our Place in the World by…
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Maps: Finding Our Place in the World

by James R. Akerman

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Lots of fascinating information here. If I had a quibble, it would be that flipping between text and figure can sometimes be awkward (especially given the size of the book), and that I wish some of the images were larger, so their details could be examined. Otherwise, there's a lot to chew over here.
  ranaverde | Dec 24, 2018 |
More a history of map-making than it is of maps. The chapter on the US is the closest to what I was expecting from this collection of essays, that being a history of the way maps have been used and have changed in response to needs. It was the chapter I thought I would least like, instead it turned out to be the most informative, the best written, and was thoroughly engaging. Next to it in quality is the last chapter, on the consumption of maps. Highly interesting, showing how maps were used and distributed amongst the population, away from the Portolan charts used by mariners. I got a lot of ideas for role playing games, as widespread use of maps in Europe developed in the 16th C, amongst the elite.

There is a chapter on Imaginary maps, or rather maps of imaginary places, such as Tolkien's Middle Earth and More's Utopia. I was quite looking forward to this chapter, anticipating a wealth of info on all sorts of maps I didn't know about, from games and books, didactic aids on morality, and wishful thinking maps of would-be conquerors. Sadly, this wasn't to be. The chapter is well written, and the discussion of ironic maps was welcome - a map designed to disorient the reader sounds splendid. But overall the chapter is far too short, and doesn't cover nearly enough ground. Especially lacking was coverage of maps from games. I had seen a picture of Risk while skimming the book before reading, but it turns out it was from the last chapter. And oddly, it wasn't actually discussed.

Which leads into one of the biggest problems with the book. There are a lot of interesting maps in this book, and very few of them are described well, in any way! Lots of times, the text will describe a map at length yet not include it, or it will be on the next page, or even in a different chapter. And often, the print quality or size will be such that you can't really read the map. You just get impressions of them. Which is fine, for a certain amount of edification. But I wanted to get engrossed in Maps, and this is not the book for that. Especially odd is the chapter where almost all the maps are in French. Bizarre editorial choice for an English book written for an English audience. It didn't matter that much, though, as the quality on them wasn't that good - many of them couldn't be read to begin with.

For the other four chapters, the writing overall is serviceable, even if the content is often wholly uninteresting. Well, it might be interesting if the branch of history the author is focusing on is your thing, but rarely did I care about the local ordinances under discussion. There is some interesting material on early maps of the world, how people used the maps for a wider cosmographical purpose, to orient the viewer in the Universe. Physical reliability was rarely necessary. The wayfaring maps were interesting, as was the info on Portolan charts. But frequently the author would get bogged down in detail that is of no use to a beginner, the book's target audience. Boring would be an apt description for about half of the book, and not "boring" in the sense of most non-fiction (no fiction-like narratives), but "boring" in the sense of finding it hard to stay awake in the afternoon while drinking coffee. Thankfully the editing is good and you can confidently skip everything you think you should in order to save your sanity.

3 stars oc ( )
  starcat | Aug 11, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226010759, Hardcover)

Maps are universal forms of communication, easily understood and appreciated regardless of culture or language. This truly magisterial book introduces readers to the widest range of maps ever considered in one volume: maps from different time periods and a variety of cultures; maps made for divergent purposes and depicting a range of environments; and maps that embody the famous, the important, the beautiful, the groundbreaking, or the amusing. Built around the functions of maps—the kinds of things maps do and have done—Maps confirms the vital role of maps throughout history in commerce, art, literature, and national identity.

The book begins by examining the use of maps for wayfinding, revealing that even maps as common and widely used as these are the product of historical circumstances and cultural differences. The second chapter considers maps whose makers employed the smallest of scales to envision the broadest of human stages—the world, the heavens, even the act of creation itself. The next chapter looks at maps that are, literally, at the opposite end of the scale from cosmological and world maps—maps that represent specific parts of the world and provide a close-up view of areas in which their makers lived, worked, and moved.

Having shown how maps help us get around and make sense of our greater and lesser worlds, Maps then turns to the ways in which certain maps can be linked to particular events in history, exploring how they have helped Americans, for instance, to understand their past, cope with current events, and plan their national future. The fifth chapter considers maps that represent data from scientific instruments, population censuses, and historical records. These maps illustrate, for example, how diseases spread, what the ocean floor looks like, and how the weather is tracked and predicted. Next comes a turn to the imaginary, featuring maps that depict entire fictional worlds, from Hell to Utopia and from Middle Earth to the fantasy game World of Warcraft. The final chapter traces the origins of map consumption throughout history and ponders the impact of cartography on modern society.

A companion volume to the most ambitious exhibition on the history of maps ever mounted in North America, Maps will challenge readers to stretch conventional thought about what constitutes a map and how many different ways we can understand graphically the environment in which we live. Collectors, historians, mapmakers and users, and anyone who has ever “gotten lost” in the lines and symbols of a map will find much to love and learn from in this book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:22 -0400)

Introducing readers to a wide range of maps from different time periods and a variety of cultures, this book confirms the vital roles of maps throughout history in commerce, art, literature, and national identity.

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