History of the World Map b

Review :

This is a very good book. It could potentially have been better titled as "A history of twelve world maps" or something like that, but I guess the current title works. The premise of the book is that a map of the world is a rich statement that speaks about places on the globe but also about the political, cultural, religious, and technological age in which it was developed. That means that world maps (and really all maps) are evidence of the times in which they are created, provided one takes the time and effort to dig deep. The author then goes ahead and digs deep -- very deep -- on a series of twelve maps ranging from Ptolemy in AD 154 to Google Earth today. The maps also span cultures and include significant East Asian and Islamic examples. All of the chapters read like well designed academic papers (which they likely were in some form) that could be presented separately and tell their own stories. The broader continuities and contrasts among them are also well developed in a really thoughtful book that takes some digesting. The first chapter drags a bit but after that the flow is less of a problem. Technical issues such as the perennial problem of how to project a spherical surface onto a flat surface are mixed together with broader metaphysical questions of how religion and science fit together without heresy. These issues are not just "historical". Mapping programs from Google and others are used everyday and their failures (such as with google maps) make the news. Geography is still important in global politics. The chapter on Mackinder is still relevant today with unease over the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of China to economic dominance. I could go on, but will not. The book is superb.


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