“Maps hold a clue to what makes us human,” Simon Garfield writes in the introduction to his lively, loose-limbed exploration of our seemingly tireless quest to visually represent the lay of the land. Garfield’s interest in the human side of mapmaking—the personalities, anecdotes, curiosities—is what makes On the Map such an enjoyable read.
Garfield’s 22 chapters follow a rough chronology, beginning with the Great Library of Alexandria, where Eratosthenes of Cyrene in the third century B.C. came remarkably close to calculating the true circumference of the earth, and ending with contemporary medicine’s attempt to map the human brain. In between, he regales readers with tales of mapmakers and map thieves, treasure maps, the origins of the atlas and the development of the beautiful schematic map of the London tube. Who was Mercator and why do we think his distortion-filled map is so important? How did the Americas come to be named after Amerigo Vespucci, a former bank clerk who sailed for South America nearly a decade after Columbus reached the Caribbean? Why did a nonexistent mountain range remain on maps of Africa for almost a century? The answers can be found in On the Map.
An Englishman, Garfield’s topic selections skew toward the British, but On the Map also includes chapters on the grid map of Manhattan and the mapping efforts of the Lewis and Clark expedition (with an interesting aside on Native Americans’ evanescent sand maps). So On the Map is capacious rather than comprehensive. It is also vastly entertaining.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Having triumphed with Just My Type, an illuminating guide to type fonts that made many best sellers and best books lists, Garfield returns to show how maps both reflect and shape human history. Over 100 maps and illustrations and thoroughly Americanized by Britisher Garfield, with new sections.[Page 56]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Garfield's best-selling Just My Type (2011) was about typefaces. Now he's done the same for maps. The result is not deep history but it is pleasurable history nonetheless: readers will enjoy this romp through 16,000 years of mapmaking, beginning with a hunter's map found in a cave in northern Spain and proceeding all the way to today's GPS, Google Maps, video games, and Me Mapping. Aimed at educated lay readers who want both to nourish their mind and divert it, the book dispenses a good deal of information in the process: the problems the earth's curvature has posed in its representation, how maps reflect national and cultural biases, how maps have been used to solve problems like the spread of cholera in 1854 London, the technical progress made in mapping. "Maps are only human, after all," quips Garfield. VERDICT Readers of popular history will enjoy this entertaining and informative book. This is popular history but not "history light."[See Prepub Alert, 7/22/12.]--David Keymer, Modesto, CA[Page 74]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC