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on 13 January 2013
'What is there?' is one of the world's basic questions; and maps can answer that question at one level; and have given a variety of different answers over the years, from the Hereford Mappa Mundi (there's a Christian story which the geography of the world reflects) to the 'Peters projection' ('there's a much bigger third world than we thought'). Maps can be prayed in aid in all sorts of discussion (who owns the spice trade - where exactly are the Moluccas in a world divided between Spain and Portgual?), including the military, the expeditionary and the 'geopolitical' world political story.

Each chapter takes a theme of world history; sets it in context (the Hereford chapter includes material on what canonisation takes and just why the map was produced - a possible visitor attraction akin to holy relicts that might bring pilgrims to a site); explains the map and its role in the theme.

I learned a lot from the book - but read it over a period of some weeks. Each chapter contains much to think about; and each contains a wealth of detail to support the argument. I have wondered whether it could have been shorter with a stronger emphasis on maps - and I suspect it could have been, but then it wouldn't have quite been this book. I doubt I will remember much of the learned detail - but I will be taking away some reflections on maps and the themes of world history. It's hard to ask for more.
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on 19 February 2014
Jerry Brotton has written an outstanding history of mapping the world. It's a tremendous tour de force ranging from Ancient Babylon and Ptolemy to GPS and Google maps. Along the way it takes in many of the classic maps and, perhaps unsurprisingly, is particularly strong on the Renaissance period. As an aside its also an excellent insight into the voyages of 'discovery' made by, amongst others, the Portuguese and Castilian explorers.

Lusciously illustrated and tremendously readable, it doesn't just cover Western cartography. It discusses a Korean map and also encapsulates religion and philosophy and the role they have in creating a world view.

Easy to read and trmendously interesting. Well done Professor Brotton.
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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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To my regret I gave up on geography very early on in Schools days, map reading to me was a real chore and somewhat abstract. It was not until later on in life did I realise that maps could be much more, and the ideas presented by Jerry Brotton book `A History of the World in Twelve Maps'; manages to illustrate in an academic fashion, but not convoluted or highbrow, but rather palatable form the complexities behind maps in terms of their political, economic, social and very philosophical make-up. By looking at the people that put these paradigms together, and their need/reasons, that made put the maps they were working on in the first - but also the ideological pressures behind their decisions.

I give two broad examples; firstly the way in which European nations fighting over Africa in the 19th and early 20th century's used their cultural and diplomatic bias to `carve up' the so called `Dark Continent', these boundaries and so called countries within Africa are still reeling from effects of these map makers. There is Hitler's use of Maps, to help prescribe the need for `Living Space in the East'. His use of maps to attain further concessions from those in Europe who thought they could somehow placate him through diplomatic appeasement. Ultimately Hitler had map in mind for Europe and much larger Germany at its centre.

Mr Brotton's book is not necessarily a light read, but I found it fascinating, it throws out interesting ideas and concepts. Maps are not boring dusty items but full of information that may not always be self-evident; as one reviewer put it succinctly an `intelligent read' and I would recommend it.
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on 15 November 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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VINE VOICEon 23 March 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 4 May 2016
Very obviously written by an academic - reams of information, but zero 'information design' nor narrative. Reminded me of being stuck in boring university lectures. And it falls well short of its goal of any history of the world at all. Sorry to be so negative - lots of work and scholarship has gone into this, but is not for the casual reader at all.
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on 17 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book brings a fresh and novel perspective into how we view maps! Never haveing formally studies geopgraphy, I have nonetheless have always been fascinated by maps be they road, satellite or survey maps (being a late convertee to GPS, I still have my trusted A-Z in the glove compartment)!
Prof Brotton explores the historical journey of maps, as well as the political weight that most -if not all- maps bear as part of their very nature. This is book is a journey of history and geography and politics, very readable, definitely enlightening, and for me very enjoyable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 December 2014
There are quite a few books about maps these days, but this one is a pretty good choice, especially as there is a good number of colour reproductions of maps included. (Books about maps which are short of maps in them are more common than you might think!). The range of maps over time and space also makes this book a fun introduction to global history as well as to the craft of making maps.
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