On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

Simon Garfield, Author
Simon Garfield. Gotham, $27.50 (448p) ISBN 978-1-592-40779-8
Reviewed on: 11/12/2012
Release date: 12/27/2012
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-1-59240-780-4
Ebook - 674 pages - 978-1-84765-855-5
Hardcover - 464 pages - 978-1-84668-510-1
Hardcover - 978-1-78125-307-6
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Innumerable modes of seeing the world unfold in this exuberant history of maps. Garfield (Just My Type) loosely follows the development of cartography, taking in the precociously scientific geography of the ancient Greeks; medieval England’s Hereford Mappa Mundi, drenched in Christian allegory and teeming with mythical beasts; the Age of Exploration’s heroic maps of newly discovered, sketchily drawn, and wrongly designated landmasses (America got its name from a cartographer’s erroneous belief that Amerigo Vespucci discovered it); the 19th-century map that established cholera as a water-borne disease; modern GPS systems, and video game fantasy maps. Along the way he pursues diverting cartographical anecdotes and oddities, including the centuries-long consensus that California was an island, the lingering conceit that women can’t read maps, and the appearance and disappearance of canals on maps of Mars. Garfield’s coverage of this terrain, lavishly illustrated with reproductions of famous maps, is broad but paper-thin—more a meandering guided tour than a systematic survey. Still, his droll humor and infectious curiosity will keep readers engrossed as he uncovers surprising ways in which maps chart our imaginations as much as they do the ground underfoot. Photos, illus., maps. (Jan.)
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