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Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey Hardcover – 7 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; 1st edition (7 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080987
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080981
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 4.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Hewitt tackles the subject exuberantly ... The sweep of its history has true grandeur' --The Times

`An endlessly absorbing, lively and informative narrative that highlights the Ordnance project's legion of draughtsmen, surveyors, dreamers and eccentrics' --Observer

`An extremely handsome and scholarly account of the genesis of the OS map' --Sunday Telegraph

`A diligent and very detailed book. She has done justice to a neglected subject and to neglected but worthy men' --Daily Mail

`A remarkable story of human endeavour in the name of Enlightenment values'

About the Author

Rachel Hewitt competed her doctoral thesis on the subject at the university of London in 2008, and is currently a Research Fellow at Queen Mary and Westfield.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

215 of 219 people found the following review helpful By Big Jim TOP 100 REVIEWER on 17 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love maps and the OS map above all. This book describes how the Ordnance Survey came to be and its turbulent early history.As the author says '...the national mapping agency has established a secure place in the affections of the modern British public'. An institution indeed.

Hewitt explains how the Ordnance Survey grew from the Highland uprisings as the Hanoverian forces tried to explore the wild territory in which the clansmen lived and indeed hid. Ironically it was a lowland Scot, William Roy of Lanarkshire, who led the team that criss-crossed the rugged terrain - so rugged that even today there is little point in using any online map service other than that supplied by the OS and only harveys have seen fit to challenge the OS in providing useful maps to take with you into the hills.
The Lowlands followed the Highlands, as did England, and with increased pressure from the French eventually it became necessary to know where we were, and where the fiendish French might come from. Enter William Mudge.

Crazy name but driven guy. It was Mudge who plotted the triangles across southern England, oversaw their publicationa as maps, with the first instalment, 'an Entirely New and Accurate Survey of the County of Kent with Part of the County of Essex'. produced in 1801. It took 69 years to produce all of the first series and that is where this story ends.

If there is one criticism of the work it is that there are no racy or scandalous stories to tell. No tales of financial skullduggery or loads of people being killed as they hang from a mountain top with their theodlyte. These were serious men so it is hardly the author's fault that there is little here for those looking for "drama".
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let's make no bones about. This is an interesting book about a well loved institution. It seems to be a well researched book about a well loved institution. It will probably be bought by people like me who really enjoy looking at maps - almost any map, anywhere, and they will find,. as I did, many interesting things within in its many pages.

But let's also be clear about what this book is about: its about the origin of the Ordnance Survey and the production of the First Series of One Inch to the Mile maps (plus a few other things if the truth be told). It's not, as its title claims, of biography of the Ordnance Survey. It is a story that stops in the 1870's.

You will find few references to the Landranger Series of maps, or the Pathfinder series, or the 1:25000 Tourist Maps of the Lakes or the Dales. You won't find the beautiful One Inch to the Mile Map of The Lake District. In fact, you probably won't find any of the maps that people use today at all.

You will find a detailed and at times rather slow moving account of the early days of the OS, but that is all you will find. Oh, you will find a few mistakes as well - grid references do not identify a "point" in the landscape, they identify an area, which is why we say "I will meet you at the bridge at XXXXXX". Pillar in the Lakes is called "The Pillar", which is a strange mistake given that there is an extensive account of how the original map makers made sure they got the names of places correct.

This is a book with serious intentions - about 20% of the pages are taken up with references, but it is a history of the first 100 years of the OS, not an account of its whole history.

If you know this before you read the book, and you still want to read the book, you will find it excellent. But if, like me, you wanted just a hint of modernity, you may find it all just a little too academic and a little too distant.

Proceed with caution
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Plastic Mars on 18 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
An instantly engaging book that truly brings to life the trials and triumphs involved in creating the first accurate map of Britain. It's difficult not to get caught up in the same enthusiasm for their vast project that the original surveyors must have felt, and to share the author's sense that the resulting maps are treasures everyone can appreciate.

The action starts in Scotland in 1746, where difficulties pursuing the fleeing Jacobites motivate a military-inspired survey of the land. The all-consuming nature of the task, its scientific and practical challenges and the immense appeal of creating a national image in the form of a map raise ambitions to extend a more accurate form of mapping to England and Wales. Eventually the survey of England and Wales gets underway, proceeding from the south coast amidst fears of French invasion. After many diversions and side projects, including a particularly interesting and ambitious 20 year period in Ireland, the book finishes with the Ordnance Survey's completion of its first series in 1870.

Hewitt does an excellent job of exploring both the scientific advances that underpin the advance of the Survey and the personalities that dominate it. She also stresses the many interested parties who helped create it, including artists, poets and linguists as well as engineers, astronomers, mathematicians and the military. The style is highly accessible but authoritative: there are very few footnotes to distract from the main text, but the book includes a reassuringly long Notes and References section at the back.

Readers who like this might also enjoy Richard Holmes' 'The Age of Wonder'.
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