Atlases used to be mere books of maps, but not any more. The best of them are now imaginatively conceived, user-friendly map-based reference books. And the huge, shiny second edition of the Dorling Kindersley Reference Atlas of the World
, which weighs several pounds and comes in a handsome slipcase, is head and shoulders above most of its competitors for clarity, ease of use and quality of information.
Tackling the world continent by continent, it has pages of diagrams, photographs and mini-maps relating to physical, political and resource features. Then it maps each continent in sections, offering extra information in dozens of side panels using DK's hall-mark technique of scattering every page with small pictures and blocks of information without clutter. Fold-out pages provide a coherent overview of large areas such as the USA.
This atlas is a good browse for armchair--or actual--travellers. Did you know that "Lake Taal on the Philippine island of Luzon lies within the crater of an immense volcano that erupted twice in the 20th century, first in 1911 and again in 1965, causing the deaths of more than 3,200 people" or that "the Murray/Darling is Australia's longest river at 1703 miles (2739 km)"?
An impressive 134-page index, an invaluable glossary of geographical terms and an alphabetical listing of all the world's countries and their vital statistics comes at the end. If you need a new atlas (and as editor David Heritage says, "the world is in a constant state of flux and change" so you need to update regularly) then you are unlikely to find a better one than this. --Susan Elkin