8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
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.