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4.1 out of 5 stars109
4.1 out of 5 stars
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 October 2012
I don't think the author will mind if I say this book is not strictly for cartography academics, but for the more general reader with an interest in maps, mapping, exploration and the like. In this regard it succeeds admirably, using a breezy style to whisk you through a potted history of the subject which is easy to read and understand. I have to confess that there was a fair bit in here that was already familiar to me and would also be familiar to anyone with an interest in maps already. For example there isn't much in the chapter on the Ordnance Survey that isn't in Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey but nevertheless it is still worth reading within the context of this book. having said that I wasn't aware of the The Mountains of Kong - `a Chain of Great Mountains' - which appeared on James Rennell's map in 1798 and didn't actually exist, so there is something for everyone here.
Split into short and sharp chapters this is a book that lends itself equally to a solid read through, or as a book to pick through as and when you get the chance. Lavishly illustrated, as the saying goes, I would caution anyone thinking of getting this on Kindle that these illustrations and maps don't reproduce well on the Kindle itself but are fine if using a tablet or the Kindle App on a laptop
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VINE VOICEon 4 July 2013
There are two things which let this book down. Firstly, the writing. Although the writer has obviously spent a lot of time on research, he doesn't make the stories come alive. Most of the chapters are just a little bit boring. Secondly, the presentation. The lousy paper quality really puts me off, and there's no excuse for it. But the main problem with the presentation is the very poor quality of the reproductions. This is partly caused by the cheap paper and partly by reproducing colourful maps in black and white -- it takes away all the magic of the originals. Putting one colour map in the front doesn't make up for it.
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on 19 September 2013
The short chapters are engagingly written, tell a good story and are easy to read, but a book about maps cries out for images, and this book is let down by both the size and the quality of the pictures which are far too small and indistinct, often crammed into a corner of the page so that they become unreadable. As others have commented, the printing is further let down by the poor quality paper used. Not only are the maps too small and badly reproduced, there are not enough: whole pages describe important maps without any illustration to show what the author is trying to convey.

I have enjoyed reading this book so gave it three stars, but don't buy it if you need the maps to visualise the story.
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on 6 November 2012
In writing a book with the ambitious remit of summarising the history of cartography from Eratosthenes to Google maps, Garfield has clearly undertaken a prodigious amount of research and has successfully captured the allure of maps and the insight they provide into the societies and times that created them.

The particular strength of this work is in the author's evocation of the human story behind maps, be it the early voyages of Da Gama , Columbus, Marco Polo or Vespucci or the tragic but darkly comical tale of Burke and Wills's exploration of Australia. Especially compelling in this respect is the recount of Snow's mapping of a Victorian cholera outbreak in which cartography is used to confirm beyond doubt, for the first time, that cholera was a water born pathogen rather miasmic.

The book also vividly depicts the lives as well as the works of the creators of the A-Z atlas and the London Underground map. The inventor of the former, Phyllis Pearsall is depicted as a driven woman desperately seeking to restore the reputation of her bankrupt father. The creator of the latter, Harry Beck, is shown to be a forward thinker with a sense of humour, parodying his own work in a manner which has become common place subsequent to his death and established a link between cartography and pop art.

This well researched book appeals to both the geographer and the layperson, covering such diverse subjects as: the comparative mapping abilities of men and women, the role of maps in Empire building and imperial control, politics and the prosecution of the Second World War .The impact of new technologies is imaginatively discussed, with the advent of GPS increasingly leading to an egocentric form of mapping. Whilst Jerusalem featured at the centre of many medieval maps, today Google, Apple and Bing maps all feature 'me' (the tablet/ smartphone) owner at the centre -just another example of how maps have come to reflect the aspirations and beliefs of society -how apposite that the modern western consumer should have the world literally revolve around them!
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on 17 March 2014
Having read a popular science book or history book, I like to feel that I have learnt something useful or have been amusingly diverted for a few hours. Unfortunately, this book did neither for me.

For example, there is probably no more important topic in the history of map making than the Mercator projection. However, rather than try to explain how the projection works and how it was developed, this book merely states that it happened. Likewise with triangulation. It is described as a way of measuring distances using trigonometry, but doesn't try to explain how it works.

This could have been forgiven if the book were more entertaining, but the author really seemed to be struggling to fill up space - resorting in some of the later chapters to the tours of celebrity homes in Hollywood and the worlds created by computer games.

Overall, this struck me as a book by someone who had the topic recommended to him by his publisher and not one written by a man who knows and loves his subject.
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Simon Garfield gives us an interesting and entertaining (but brief) explanation and history of maps; how, why and what they are, with several of the world's most significant maps as well as some unexpected and amusing gems all used to help illustrate his themes.

Alas, these examples are only shown in black and white, and are small and poorly printed. I've always been intrigued by maps and was very disappointed at the lack of detail available from the illustrations; why give us such a well written over-view of such an absorbing subject when the maps themselves are close to being illegible? Perhaps to force us into travelling the world to search out the originals?

I am fortunate to have been able to see some of the originals at first hand, just a sheet of glass away in some instances. For example the Hereford Mappa Mundi at the cathedral; while he devotes a whole chapter to describing it and how it was almost sold for a pittance, the illustrations supporting his text are barely recognisable.

More to the point, at the end of the book he shows us the many ways that are emerging of researching maps, and also grasping novel and modern mapping systems without needing paper, as well as an extensive Bibliography and a comprehensive Index.

My copy of the book is a first edition, first print hardback I was given as a very welcome Christmas present. It is most useful for drawing our attention to the gems we have missed, giving us history and trivia and fascinating facts, a starting point to searching out more detail, and with any luck actually being able to see the maps themselves. But the inadequate illustrations are what lose it a star.
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on 25 October 2012
I have just received and dipped into the book to sample the text, and am looking forward to reading a lot more, so I err towards 5* for the writing. What really jars, when the book should hold hopes of tactile pleasure, is the awful paper, on which the book is printed. Cheap, nasty, horrible, it looks and feels and smells of newsprint and undoubtedly is the reason for the poor reproductions. The Thames and Hudson 'World of Art' series are comparable, about 2/3 the price, pro rata, printed on fine glossy paper, impressive reproduction of photos and drawings, and have proper stitched binding/spines as well. Why did Profile books chose to ignore quality ?
1212 comments45 of 51 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 24 December 2012
Simon Garfield has written a few non-fiction works now and this latest effort which takes us on a historical tour of map making is mostly successful. The result is less a history of cartography and more a series of articles on different aspects of map making and publishing. The scope ranges from the London A to Z to the mapping of the planets; from the Mappable Mundi to maps of virtual worlds popular with computer gamers and from the early maps of the New World to the latest maps of the human brain. Many of these subjects would be worthy of books by themselves and as such, we can only get a taster in this volume. Nevertheless, there is some interesting stuff here and I certainly learned a few things that I did not know previously. One small quibble is that the many maps reproduced in this volume are presented in black and white and in miniature - probably unavoidable for a pocket-sized volume but it does detract from the work a little. As a collection of essays, some are more interesting than others and of course, we don't have a specific story to follow. I'd also argue that the title is a little misleading as I don't believe that the book explains "why the world looks the way it does". Still, three stars would be a bit churlish for such a well-researched effort so four stars was my verdict.
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on 26 January 2014
I bought this book as a Christmas present to myself.

In terms of the "story", On The Map far exceeded my expectations.

It is a stupendously interesting read if you are a fan of the subject matter, but is certainly more about maps themselves than cartography per se - although of course it would be impossible to compose 460+ pages on the subject without some cross-pollination!

The typography is interesting - perhaps not a surprise bearing in mind Garfield's "Just My Type" - and splits the book into a broadly chronological history within which are interspersed tangential stories that feel somewhat random.

I would urge you to give the book a try if you are considering it, but I would also repeat the comments of a number of other reviewers.

The illustrations are somewhat sparse and generally horrible - certainly in the paperback edition. Perhaps the hardback is a larger tome and has no such problem.

Paper quality is also a bit iffy, and there are a few typos that have bypassed proof-reading.

But just ignore this... stick to the story and you will be well satisfied.
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on 13 November 2012
Simon Garfield's "Just My Type" Just My Type: A Book About Fonts was one of my favourite reads of recent times. This one is also good but is possibly a little less consistent than "Just My Type". Maybe it's just a personal thing but some of the middle chapters dealing with British Empire builders (Stanley etc) became a little pedestrian at times.
But, that's the negatives out of the way. The general tenor of the book is entertaining, knowledgeable and often humorous. Of particular interest is the final chapter on mapping the brain. This subject, an interesting variation on the book's standard theme of terrestrial mapping is rich in potential and must surely be under consideration by the author and his publishers as the subject of a complete new work. In essence, this tailpiece is a study of how brain mapping is pushing the boundaries of our understanding how we think and feel. With humorous backward glances at the old pseudo-science of phrenology, Simon Garfield describes how we are exploring the hidden corners of our brains in much the same way as we once explored the unknown corners of planet Earth, by travelling there and by mapping what we find.
There are also excellent chapters on the ancient maps and mapmakers, the creators of the A-Zs and on the mapping of our neighbours in the Solar System although I would have liked to have read more on the stories of the national mappers such as the Ordnance Survey, Michelin and so on.
There is so much more to be said on the whole fascinating subject of mapping and this book can only be a taster, one for the "interested, knowledgeable reader" rather than the professional cartographer. But that is what it is meant to be of course. The bonus would be the inspiration it may give for the "interested reader" to go on to become a professional cartographer. It is certainly capable of doing that.
Buy if you enjoy general knowledge presented in a readable format, and especially if you simply like maps.
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