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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book but with limitations
As a collector of old maps and a maker of new ones (for orienteering) I felt this book was going to be right up my street. And indeed I found most of it fascinating and informative - I even read every word, instead of just dipping in.
However as I finished it, I had a sense of disappointment that the author had not quite done himself justice. My reasons are...
Published on 25 Mar. 2013 by John P

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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just because there's a wealth of information, doesn't mean that the book is any good
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...
Published on 29 Dec. 2012 by Petra Bryce


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating....., 6 Jun. 2013
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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Jerry Brotton focuses on twelve different maps to show how these have over time shaped our view of the world. He begins with a clay tablet from Babylon and ends with Google Earth. He shows (or reminds us) that maps are not necessarily value-free and can be used to reinforce political ideas. (Many years ago I remember criticism of West Germany for using maps in school text books that showed Germany as encompassing East Germany. This was not accidental. Today if you look online for maps of Israel they may not show the new (illegal) settlements.) Does anyone else remember the classroom world maps with the British influence marked in pink? "That's all ours," we were told.

This is a beautifully produced book. The colour illustrations are lovely - even though I would have liked them to have been a bit larger. It is densely packed with facts and ideas (perhaps a bit too densely packed in places) and gives the reader plenty to digest and mull over.

A History of the World in Twelve Maps is the sort of book that can be read straight through or dipped into at random. Anyone who likes maps cannot fail to be fascinated by this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but dry, 15 Nov. 2013
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. It was first started by the book A History of the World in 100 Objects.

There are lots of images of ancient maps, the detail and depth that the book goes into are impressive, and the credentials of the author are impeccable. And yet it doesn't work for me. There is a mass of detail in here, from some of the very first maps by Ptolemy and other significant ones like the Mappi Mundi in Hereford cathedral, to the Mercer projection and the origins of the OS, and onto Google earth. It covers all the really important maps and individuals involved in the creation of those maps, and has some superb images of the maps in colour.

What makes this book so difficult to read is the text; it feels like it is written like a academic paper most of the time. It does improve towards the end, but it did make it very hard reading for most of the book, and that is a shame.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maps as socially- and ideologically-constructed views of the world, 4 Nov. 2012
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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In this authoritative history of geography and cartography, Brotton makes the point that maps are always socially and ideologically constructed views of the world - they are always contingent, and never culturally-neutral.

Starting with Greek investigations into a scientific methodology to map the world onto two planes and ending with Google Earth, this is a fascinating read which answers questions I would never have even begun to formulate for myself.

Do be aware that this is a dense and detailed read, as might be expected from a University of London professor - it is very accessible, and you don't need to know anything about geography or mapping, but at the same time it's not a dumbed-down easy read.

There's no intrusive scholarly apparatus like footnotes, but everything is meticulously referenced at the end - always very reassuring.

It's worth adding that the hardback is a lovely book - nicely weighty and robust, with a proper paper smell.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and rewarding, 8 Nov. 2012
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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I agree with the enthusiastic reviews here. This is a very interesting and beautifully presented book with lovely illustrations. Jerry Brotton manages to present very scholarly and deeply thoughtful ideas in an accessible way, although you do need to concentrate hard as this is not a filleted digest but a full development of his theses - among them that that maps are political and ideological constructs and say a great deal about their makers and the society they live in as well as about the places they depict.

Dense and somewhat challenging but well worth the effort is probably the closest I can get to an overall description of the book, so if you like a thoroughly intelligent read which will make you think about things you hadn't really considered before, this is definitely for you
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66 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Indispensable Map, 2 Sept. 2012
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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When I was at school it was a rule that whenever we had History a world map had to be on our desks. Sadly today the majority of our GCSE, A Level and, in many cases I know of, university students seldom consult a map when studying History. Hence,we turn out at 16,18 and 21 students who are unable to tell you the countries that border, say, Russia,the location of states within the USA or Africa, or have any conception of the importance of river systems or mountain ranges on historical development.
This superb book by Professor Brotton ought therefore be compulsory reading for any history student.
Maps are fascinating,of vital importance and, at the same time, misleading.A map is never just a map. As Jerry Brotton shows maps reflect, expose and manipulate the political and social environment in which they are made.
The well-known Mercator Projection, the work of the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, has many shortcomings. For example, it fails to make clear that Latin America is almost twice the size of Europe or that Greenland is far smaller than it appears to be on the map.
Since the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy wrote 'Geography' around 150 AD cartographers have had to grapple with the problem of how to project a spherical globe in two dimensions. This excellent book tells the story of the complexity of making 12 maps stretching from Ptolemy to Google Earth. By the 19th century Britain was often placed at the centre of maps instead of at the edge as in previous centuries.
The author explains that even today with access to satellite images there is no universally accepted map. He writes:'different societies have very distinct ideas of the world and how it should be represented'.
Professor Brotton explains how maps are the products of both art and science. His book makes clear that maps are about things other than spatial awareness. They are also about finance, discovery and empire. Above all they are a fascinating interpretation of the perceived world. They can be thought of as windows to times past.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book, looks at all aspects of maps and you'll probably find some more interesting than others, 23 Mar. 2013
By 
M. Richardson "mrichardson" - See all my reviews
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This is a beautiful book. It looks great on a coffee table.

And it reads like it packs the academic heft to go with the intelligent looking cover. The history of maps (and maps of history, for that matter) are covered from before Ptolemy up to Google. In each section, it tries to explain the source of the map, why it was made like that, politics that shaped it, what it shows, how it looks artistically and so on.

It is very densely packed and I found too many parts of it were hard work for me. In particular, I'm interested in history and science, so the artistic analysis of the maps dragged on too long for me - artistic analysis easily slips into a list of an author's opinions wrapped up in florid language. If you're artistically better educated and more rounded than me though, this might be just what you're looking for.

The strongest parts for me are where simple things we take for granted are explained: how people located places on maps, or why they are oriented in certain directions (e.g. with north at the top), or how they have impacted culture in ways that are easy to recognise, such as how in some Chinese languages, the words 'north' and 'back' are alike, due to the emperor facing south to view his kingdom from his northern capital.

You also get a collection of map images which are truly wonderful to look at. People's attempts to recreate an image of the world with terrible information of the past, and their inflation of their own importance (a Korean map showing Korea as ~10% of the world's land was my particular favourite) speaks to timeless aspects of human nature.

There are nuggets of interest and enlightenment, and it's an heroic effort to cover so much in a single book. Making the language easier to enjoy, and more effort to trim the fat would have made me give it 4 or 5 stars. If you're up for learning such a broad array of information about maps and think that a bit of artistic-type (I call it 'hand waving') analysis would thrill you, then this is probably a great buy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but more pictures and less words would have been better!, 23 Mar. 2013
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Another Weasley (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I like maps - they tell you so much about places, people and the world. Consequently, I was interested in this book and I can tell you that it is a good book.

There are 12 chapters. Each focus on a separate "map":

1) Science : Ptolemy's Geography c.AD 150
2) Exchange: Al-Idrisi, AD 1154
3) Faith: Hereford Mappamundi, c. 1300
4) Empire: Kangnido World Map, 1402
5) Discovery: Martin WAldseemuller, World Map, 1507
6) Globalism: Diogo Ribeiro, World Map, 1529
7) Toleration: Gerard Mercator, World Map, 1569
8) Money: Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior, 1662
9) Nation: The Cassini Family, Map of France, 1793
10) Geopolitics: Halford Mackinder, "The Geographical pivot of history", 1904
11) Equality: The Peters Prokection, 1973
12) Information: Google Earth, 2012

Personally, I would have preferred more images and perhaps a bigger book to accommodate them. However I understand that the purpose of the book is more about the story and influence of the maps rather than what they actually look like. According to the book the author is a Professor of Renaissance and leading expert in the history of maps and Renaissance cartography. He has a good style of writing and he doesn't overcomplicate things, however he can go on a bit and sometimes waffle - but I guess that is a common trait for academics!

It is certainly worth a read for both historians and geographers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant historical projections, 18 Dec. 2012
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a lavish history book that focuses upon a vital (but seemingly neglected in the popular mind) aspect of the way human beings regard themselves and their world. The author takes 12 key maps from across human history, including, for example, the first glimmerings of the continent that would become America and managing in the far west of European consciousness in the 15th century, to the Philips projection that literally turned Eurocentric conception of the world on its head in the 1970s in one elegant postcolonial gesture.

Brotton is an elegant and sure-footed historian who places each of these key texts in a wholly appropriate and eclectic context. The picture that emerges is a powerful reminder of how the dominant paradigms can alter within the space of one generation, sometimes even without the population as a whole being aware of it. The message that lies beneath this elegant book is that we probably are long overdue for one of these paradigm changes in the West, and while it might be necessary, is unlikely to be a terribly stabilising or comfortable realisation. On a more practical note, the book is well illustrated by colour illustrations in the middle, rather than being a coffee table style volume of maps. My usual historical reading centres on military history, and I found this elegant book a necessary departure and an enjoyable read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed history of cartography without being engaging throughout, 31 Jan. 2014
By 
Darren Simons (Middlesex, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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 that generation. As an idea to combine history and cartography with developing religious beliefs and developing scientific measurement via a series of short stories I applaud the author - I just wish it had been a little more engaging. The intention is that each chapter gives the history of how a map was created, with context given to the political or religious views at the time, as well as scientific considerations notably the ability to measure accurately.

For me, the very early chapters set the scene, notably Ptolemy's map although it is very difficult to recognise it as a map in the modern sense. I found much of the next few chapters somewhat boring with maps which also did not really relate to what I would call a map, but found the chapters on Ribiero, Mercator, and in particular Blaeu and Cassini far more interesting.

This is a book which is not going to interest everyone, but it is incredibly well researched and would serve as an excellent reference on the subject. For the casual reader, it is very informative and interesting, but you may want to skip the chapters which do not have the most appeal.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, perhaps a little dry and over academic, 16 Dec. 2012
By 
Rosey Lea (london, UK) - See all my reviews
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Maps are fashionable at the moment. Large heavy hardback coffee table books of colourful historic maps right through to popular science style books on great cartographic achievements (I still love The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named). This book sits in the middle of the scale. It's a book to read rather than flick through the pictures (in fact there's surprisingly few map pictures or visual aids, and they're not reproduced to a useful scale), but it is one heck of a heavy, detailed read. More of a dry, professional academic study than an armchair read.

That's not to discount the sheer volume of information the book contains, but every topic discussed is... huge. It takes real dedication and a little help from Google to wade through the entire book. Personally I would have preferred a cut down version, as although the subject matter is amazing, I did get that wading through treacle feeling bit too often.
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A History of the World in Twelve Maps
A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton (Paperback - 2 May 2013)
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