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A History of the World in Twelve Maps [Paperback]

Jerry Brotton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 May 2013

Throughout history, maps have been fundamental in shaping our view of the world, and our place in it. But far from being purely scientific objects, maps of the world are unavoidably ideological and subjective, intimately bound up with the systems of power and authority of particular times and places. Mapmakers do not simply represent the world, they construct it out of the ideas of their age. In this scintillating book, Jerry Brotton examines the significance of 12 maps - from the almost mystical representations of ancient history to the satellite-derived imagery of today. He vividly recreates the environments and circumstances in which each of the maps was made, showing how each conveys a highly individual view of the world. Brotton shows how each of his maps both influenced and reflected contemporary events and how, by reading it, we can better understand the worlds that produced it.

Although the way we map our surroundings is changing, Brotton argues that maps today are no more definitive or objective than they have ever been, but that they continue to define, shape and recreate the world. Readers of this book will never look at a map in quite the same way again.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141034939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141034935
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


[A] fascinating and panoramic new history of the cartographer's art... Brotton's idea of tracing within maps the patterns of human thought is a wonderful one (Tom Holland Guardian)

As this mesmerising and beautifully illustrated book demonstrates, maps have, since ancient times, carried vast symbolic weight ... rich and endlessly absorbing history (Sinclair McKay Daily Telegraph)

An elegant, powerfully argued variation on the theme of knowledge as power and ignorance as powerlessness (David Horspool Guardian)

Rich and adventurous (John Carey Sunday Times)

An achievement of evocation....a fascinating and thought-provoking book (Anthony Sattin Literary Review)

Brotton is acutely sensitive to the social, political and religious contexts which unravel why maps were made, for whom and with what axes to grind (Robert Mayhew History Today)

A highly rewarding study (Simon Garfield Mail on Sunday)

Engrossing reading (Carl Wilkinson Financial Times)

The intellectual background to these images is conveyed with beguiling erudition ... There is nothing more subversive than a map (Andrew Linklater Spectator)

It is a wonderful history, which will delight anyone with an interest in history and geography (David Wooton TLS)

About the Author

Jerry Brotton is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London, and a leading expert in the history of maps and Renaissance cartography. His most recent book, The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection (2006), was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize as well as the Hessell-Tiltman History Prize. In 2010, he was the presenter of the BBC4 series 'Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession'.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 9 Dec 2012
By Stromata VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It was only following the publication of the 'Peters Projection Map' in the 1970s, which claimed to be a good, fair, and non-racist view of the world, that it occurred to me that maps, atlases and the like could be concocted for reasons other than wish to make a true and accurate representation of the route from a to b.

In his wonderfully interesting book 'A History of the World in Twelve Maps', Jerry Brotton gives us example after example of maps that have come in to being for a specific purpose, be it science, commerce, religion etc. As with other well-written 'single-subject' histories (such as, for example, 'Salt: A History of the World, by Mark Kurlansky) the breadth of the interest is vast and yet I would say this is not a difficult read.

The text is complemented with a generous fifty-six colour plates, numerous black and white illustrations within the body of the work and a superb and informative 'Notes' section. Indeed it is a beautifully produced publication by Allen Lane.

An excellent book and highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mapping our World 27 Nov 2012
By Richard M. Seel VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is the sort of book which everyone can enjoy. The reader might be put off when, at the start of the book, they are faced with the List of Figures and List of Illustrations but once they have read the preface, they will be quickly caught up by Brotton's enthusiasm.

Brotton is undoubtedly a scholarly man but he is able to communicate his knowledge in a way in which those who know little of the subject matter will soon be wanting to learn more.

Each of the maps explores a different period in time starting with Ptolemy in cAD150 through to the Google Earth of today. Included is Hereford's Mappa Mundi c1300 which can be seen in the Cathedral today. The twelve maps show different aspects of the world as seen at that time - a lesson of history beautifully illustrated in words by the `greats' at that time.

Brotton explains why maps are important, how they show what was happening at the time they were made and how they related to the people living at that time. When finishing with Google maps, he scrutinises the way in which we like to explore where we live now and how this relates to our idea of ourselves.

Brotton has the gift of clear thinking and good communication. This is not the sort of book the ordinary reader will "devour in one go" but the kind of book which will be dipped into time and time again. There is so much to read and learn that space is needed between each of the maps so that one can think about and explore that time for oneself. I have to admit that is one I am going to do, one map at a time, and then discover the next map when I am ready.

Review by Shirleyanne Seel.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
By Petra Bryce VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I don't like to write negative reviews of a product, especially books, but I was really struggling to find any redeeming features in A History of the World in Twelve Maps. The book starts with a very wordy introduction that incorporates philosophy, the Classics, theology and different creation myths, etymology and history, as well as a glaring editorial error that should have been spotted way before its publication. In it, the author also offers a few thought-provoking comments, such as "A world view gives rise to a world map; but the world map in turn defines its culture's view of the world. It is an exceptional act of symbiotic alchemy" and "In the act of locating themselves on it, the viewer is at the same moment imaginatively rising above (and outside) it in a transcendent moment of contemplation, beyond time and space, seeing everything from nowhere", but sadly these get swamped by the sheer amount of information Jerry Brotton is trying to get across. The second quote in particular evokes the desire to become immersed in the details of a map, but unfortunately for the reader the publisher has decided to skimp on the reproductions so that the maps getting the Brotton treatment are all grouped together in two sections in the book and are often pitifully reduced to near illegibility. The earliest surviving map from ancient Babylon barely gets a mention and the first chapter, devoted to Ptolemy's Geography, though setting the blueprint for all modern maps by establishing the principles of latitude and longitude and defining geography as a discipline, actually isn't a map at all but a scientific treatise. Read more ›
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of the World in Twelve Maps 12 Nov 2012
By Champollion VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In 1881, in the ruins of an ancient Babylonian city named Sippar, an intrepid archaeologist, discovered a 2,500 year old clay tablet. Now on display in the British Museum it proved to be the first known map of the world. This is the first fascinating and compelling story in a journey that Jerry Brotton takes the reader on spanning that first birds eye view of the world right up to the Google Earth map which dominates today.

The twelve maps all tell a different perspective as most maps tell you as much about the society that produced them and the beliefs of the cartographer as they do about the world. The author argues there is no such thing as a neutral map, as each one is making selective decisions. Maps were meant to make a statement about political power and authority.

What is apparent is the fact that you can not put a globe onto a flat piece of paper and therefore lines of longitude and latitude are stretched as with the first atlas created by Mercator in the late sixteenth century.

After two millenia, maps having been made on stone, animal skins and paper are now digitized and virtual. Yet, the author, suggests, the new innovations are not without controversy.

Jerry Brotton has written and produced a highly readable, engaging and interesting book. He has perfectly combined the dual themes of history and map making against a background of different cultures, politics and beliefs.

This is a book to be explored, and enjoyed. You will never look at a map, the same way again. Recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 25 days ago by Lucy Mitchell
4.0 out of 5 stars present
The guy I bought it for says that he is happy with the book, it was in a good condition when it arrived
Published 3 months ago by nela milic
4.0 out of 5 stars Twelve maps
This was a present for my mother chosen because she loves maps & loved History of the world in 100 objects. So this resting is "second-hand".
Published 5 months ago by Gerry Pearce
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding history
Jerry Brotton has written an outstanding history of mapping the world. It's a tremendous tour de force ranging from Ancient Babylon and Ptolemy to GPS and Google maps. Read more
Published 6 months ago by D. G. Findlay
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed history of cartography without being engaging throughout
This book feels almost as difficult to review as it was to read. Twelve chapters cover the history of twelve maps, and how their creation defined the cartography development of... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Darren Simons
5.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening read
An easy to read but scholarly account of how maps reveal man's knowledge of the wider world, and how the scope of maps expanded.
Published 7 months ago by keith millington
4.0 out of 5 stars Aplin
In the era of Google maps and GPS, it is good to be grounded in historical background. Shoudl be on A level Geography AND History syllabuses Mr Gove.
Published 7 months ago by Brian Aplin
5.0 out of 5 stars book review
excellent service great book would recommend to anyone who has any interest in maps or history Christmas present for brother in law
Published 7 months ago by iain carstairs
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific, historical and political work with a touch of trivia...
"A History of the World in 12 Maps" by Jerry Brotton is an unusual and successful experiment to tell the history of the world through 12 maps throughout human past and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Denis Vukosav
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but dry
In lots of ways this is a fascinating book, picking up on the trend to look at a historical subject in the context of a single item or area. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
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