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The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps Hardcover – 25 Nov 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (25 Nov. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022614982X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226149820
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 766,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"A balanced, detailed, and scrupulously unspeculative work of cartographical scholarship, carefully footnoted and illustrated, not another 'who discovered?' sensation--a book that after a lapse of more than half a century attempts mainly to 'lay a foundation for a deeper understanding of the material.'"--Tim O Connell "Asian Review of Books ""

About the Author

Benjamin B. Olshin is associate professor of philosophy and the history and philosophy of science and technology at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating stuff 1 Dec. 2014
By Thomas Reiter - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I just finished this very interesting book, and wanted to post a quick review.

This book, by an actual "historian of cartography" (and university professor), describes the rather enigmatic and utterly unique collection of maps which were apparently brought from Italy by an immigrant in the early 20th century. Despite this person's attempts to engage the Library of Congress to study the maps during the 1920s-1950s, only cursory examinations were performed (including by the FBI), and after a single journal article about the maps was published in 1948, the collection completely disappeared from view.

The author is to be commended for bringing these maps back to light, tracking down the current owner, and conducting the first rather thorough study of the maps. In what might be the ultimate commercial accolade for any historian of cartography, at the time of writing this review, the author's book is ranked #1 by Amazon in the Atlas category...bravo!

The maps' unique and rather strange set of features, including Italian, Latin, Chinese and Arabic script, Ptolemaic mapping coordinates and location names (before Ptolemy's work had been re-introduced to Europe), lack of apparent connection to Polo's other writings (no mention of the maps in his account, little reference to places described in his account in the maps), and writings puportedly by Polo's little-known daughters etc, make it very difficult to make sense of these documents' origins, but the author does an admirable job of examining and describing all of the relevant issues to the extent possible, including the provenance and "chain of custody" of the maps, all the while readily admitting when his research can carry him no further (as is often the case). In his concluding chapter, the author describes further research needed, etc. Throughout the book, the author weighs arguments for and against the case that the maps are simply (but hardly simple!) forgeries.

This is a serious piece of research, so anyone looking for something like Gavin Menzies' tomes should look elsewhere (indeed, probably not surprisingly, Menzies' work is not mentioned by the author at all). Also, in the interest of full disclosure, no mention of aliens, Atlantis, or similar topics--this is "just the facts" type stuff... As serious research into a very complex topic, the book provides few definitive answers, so readers seeking "closure" might be disappointed, but to expect otherwise does not seem realistic in this case.

I should also mention the illustrations in the book. I've got the Kindle edition; while reading it on a Kindle device provides the standard low-quality black and white images, if you read the Kindle version on an iPad, etc. the picture quality is not bad. The bad news is that while some of the photos are "in color" the maps themselves seem to have been inked in black and white, so don't expect to peruse glorious multi-hued maps in this volume.

The book is short (176 pp according to Amazon, although I'm not sure as I've got the Kindle version), and I read it in less than a day; much of the book is taken up by appendices, notes, etc., so the text itself (including illustrations) takes up about 58% of the total page count.

Finally, while I've given the book five stars, before doing so I debated knocking off a star for the following issues:
1) The book is a bit dry, although not unbearably so;
2) the author has an irritating habit of quoting some Latin, Italian, or other foreign language text and not providing an English translation (sometimes he provides a translation and sometimes he doesn't). While you can generally figure out the meaning from the context and his comments about the foreign text, it is annoying...
3) The book is expensive, especially on a per page basis. Generally. however, I don't reduce ratings for pricing issues, and in this case in particular I think the author more than deserves any meager sums that end up in his pocket from this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Amazing book 24 Jan. 2015
By jcn - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book. If you like history, foreign cultures, and maps; this is a fun book. The travels of Marco Polo seems to have had a significant effect on Medieval Europe. Most people could not believe it's published versions, but a few had their world view change forever. One recent book is titled Marco Polo discovers the World. According to existing versions of his stories, there seemed be no shortage of Europeans in far Eastern Asia. It was not a complete secret, but maybe used as a proprietary trade advantage. I felt it necessary to read a traditional written version of his travels before reading "The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps", but this book was my main interest. I read "The Travels of Marco Polo" a Marsden and Wright translation( a long travel diary of his years in Asia with a lot detail). There were many description of Asian cultures which must have amazed Europe. It appears he was not the first European to discover the world, but the first to bring back detailed notes of what he saw and learned. I have heard that on his death bed he said I have told you less than half of what I saw.

Despite stories to the contrary these detail notes very likely included maps. Olshin includes several reports of such maps, although none are included in traditional versions of the travels. Maybe not surprising considering all the existing version (170?) are all copies of earlier texts. Copying maps was more difficult than text. Olshin's book investigates the Rossi collection of maps. It is a fascinating description of the maps and investigations of these and others. There is no indisputable evidence of authenticity for these and other maps, but the trail of connections is complex and intriguing. Along with the investigation of the maps Olshin covers many other mysteries regarding the history of Eastern Asia.

While a commendable investigation the book is not an easy read. Between the text, footnotes, and maps there is much to consider. I read the book twice and learned as much from the second reading as the first. Olshin's organization of the figures, quotes, and references is less than ideal. English, Italian, French, German, Latin are used along with some Arabic and Chinese words. There is no consistent system for translations. Sometimes there are helpful translations and others no translation.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Advertisement is pretty accurate but it is dense 16 Jan. 2015
By Dan Maclemore - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Does not promise more than it delivers. Advertisement is pretty accurate but it is dense. Read the first chapters, skimmed the middle and read the ending.
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