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Map - Exploring the World

srykWith the 2015 bicentenary of William Smith’s pioneering geological map of 1815, maps are back in the ‘Geoscience’ news. By coincidence Phaidon Press have just published a wonderful compendium entitled ‘Map: Exploring the World’, illustrated with over 300 maps, each accompanied by a 2500 word description. The emphasis is on the visual representation of the maps following the long standing Phaidon tradition of high quality reproduction.

There are ‘traditional’ maps of all kinds from a 2600 year old map of Babylon to Smith’s map, Heezen and Tharp’s amazing ocean floor map (1977) and a recent (2014) geological map of the Martian surface. And, then there are all sorts of other maps from those made by early explorers, native peoples and geographers, designers, artists to IT specialists and their depictions of the complex networks of social media.

The sheer variety of maps defies the production of a simple definition and as John Hessler, cartographer in the Library of Congress, says in his perceptive introduction ‘…a map is still something that is best understood when seen as an image…rather than commented on verbally’. As Hessler adds ‘this book puts the emphasis back on the experience of viewing rather than describing (a map)’. Perhaps the simplest criterion for recognising a map is that  ‘you’ll know one when you see it.’

Likewise, the function of maps is equally diverse and imaginative - if ‘something’ exists, whether in fact or fantasy, then someone will have tried to map it. Mapping seems to be a fairly fundamental human activity resulting from our need to try to make sense of the world around us.

The arrangement of the maps is neither chronological nor straightforwardly thematic but intentionally thought-provoking through the pairing of contrasting maps linked loosely by subject, age, purpose, technique or appearance. Some of these pairings are more stimulating than others but readers can always ‘curate’, as is the fashion these days, their own pairings by flipping back and forth through the book. However, a chronological survey of cartography, biographical notices of the map makers, along with a brief glossary, further reading and index are provided to help the reader navigate and explore this wonderful world of maps.

Reviewed by Douglas Palmer

MAP - EXPLORING THE WORLD by ROSIE PICKLES & TIM COOKE (Eds) 2015. Published by Phaidon Press Ltd, 352pp (hbk)  ISBN 978-0-7148-6944-5.  List price £39.95