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A History of the World in Twelve Maps Hardcover – 6 Sep 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 01 edition (6 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846140994
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846140990
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 222,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


[A] fascinating and panoramic new history of the cartographer's art... Brotton's idea of tracing within maps the patterns of human thought is a wonderful one. (Tom Holland Guardian)

As this mesmerising and beautifully illustrated book demonstrates, maps have, since ancient times, carried vast symbolic weight ... rich and endlessly absorbing history (Sinclair McKay Daily Telegraph)

an elegant, powerfully argued variation on the theme of knowledge as power and ignorance as powerlessness (David Horspool Guardian)

Rich and adventurous (John Carey Sunday Times)

An achievement of evocation....a fascinating and thought-provoking book (Anthony Sattin Literary Review)

Brotton is acutely sensitive to the social, political and religious contexts which unravel why maps were made, for whom and with what axes to grind (Robert Mayhew History Today)

A highly rewarding study (Simon Garfield Mail on Sunday)

Engrossing reading (Carl Wilkinson Financial Times)

The intellectual background to these images is conveyed with beguiling erudition ... There is nothing more subversive than a map (Andrew Linklater Spectator)

It is a wonderful history, which will delight anyone with an interest in history and geography (David Wooton TLS)

About the Author

Jerry Brotton is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London, and a leading expert in the history of maps and Renaissance cartography. His most recent book, The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection (2006), was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize as well as the Hessell-Tiltman History Prize. In 2010, he was the presenter of the BBC4 series 'Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession'.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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 have been spotted way before its publication. In it, the author also offers a few thought-provoking comments, such as "A world view gives rise to a world map; but the world map in turn defines its culture's view of the world. It is an exceptional act of symbiotic alchemy" and "In the act of locating themselves on it, the viewer is at the same moment imaginatively rising above (and outside) it in a transcendent moment of contemplation, beyond time and space, seeing everything from nowhere", but sadly these get swamped by the sheer amount of information Jerry Brotton is trying to get across. The second quote in particular evokes the desire to become immersed in the details of a map, but unfortunately for the reader the publisher has decided to skimp on the reproductions so that the maps getting the Brotton treatment are all grouped together in two sections in the book and are often pitifully reduced to near illegibility. The earliest surviving map from ancient Babylon barely gets a mention and the first chapter, devoted to Ptolemy's Geography, though setting the blueprint for all modern maps by establishing the principles of latitude and longitude and defining geography as a discipline, actually isn't a map at all but a scientific treatise.Read more ›
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By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
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.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
'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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Format: Hardcover
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 threefold: 1. the book was poorly edited, with large sections of repetition. A more concise style would have made many points shorter and clearer. 2. there were technical errors which both the author and editor should have picked up. If these occured in the sections I knew about, then did they also occur in the majority of the book which was new to me? 3. The colour illustrations are (for printing cost reasons) put into 2 blocks in the book. The reader is for ever looking forward or back to find the map being discussed - and then some are too small to be clear. There are also too few illustrations of projections (one of the main themes of the book) at appropriate moments.
But the book is well worth the read even so. The material on Asian maps will be new to most people familiar only with European exploration; the field work of the Cassini family is fascinating; and it is good to see something both positive and negative on Mackinder (who Geographers of a certain age prefer to forget). Whether Google Maps deserve quite so much uncritical attention, when maps based on photos are intrinsically inaccurate, is debatable, but that chapter brings the book up to the present and also round in quite a neat circle to where it begins.
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