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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 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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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 25 March 2013
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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VINE VOICEon 9 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It was only following the publication of the 'Peters Projection Map' in the 1970s, which claimed to be a good, fair, and non-racist view of the world, that it occurred to me that maps, atlases and the like could be concocted for reasons other than wish to make a true and accurate representation of the route from a to b.

In his wonderfully interesting book 'A History of the World in Twelve Maps', Jerry Brotton gives us example after example of maps that have come in to being for a specific purpose, be it science, commerce, religion etc. As with other well-written 'single-subject' histories (such as, for example, 'Salt: A History of the World, by Mark Kurlansky) the breadth of the interest is vast and yet I would say this is not a difficult read.

The text is complemented with a generous fifty-six colour plates, numerous black and white illustrations within the body of the work and a superb and informative 'Notes' section. Indeed it is a beautifully produced publication by Allen Lane.

An excellent book and highly recommended.
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