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on 10 March 2011
Having just finished reading the book I thought I'd my two pence worth. I would agree with some of the lower scoring comments made. This isn't a full blown biography of the OS from inception to date, and therefore the title isn't accurate. It is instead an early history of the OS, covering the period pre-OS and how it came into being and its early years up to completion of the first series, looking at the key characters and activity. So if you're looking for how they put together Mastermap, or created the National Grid, this isn't the book for you.

Saying that, I really enjoyed the book, its clearly well researched, and if you're interested in how they went about starting to map the whole country from scratch, without GPS's, aerial photography, satellites and computers to piece it all together, then this is an interesting book. The characters, their drive and vision, the influcence of maps on thinking and thinking about maps and the advancement of our relationship with our country it's fascinating. Although google maps are ubiquitous, on a storm day out on the hills having an OS map in your pocket (and compass) is reassuring. Just spreading one out over the living room floor and exploring the map is fantastic. And this book covers how the OS came about, who we have to thank for the maps we have today. What the map makers had to go through say mapping Scotland lugging the theodolite around with them and up and down hills is pretty astonishing (health and safety would probably prevent us from repeating the feat today). Their aims at times of not just creating a map, but a record of the country.

It is, as the author admits, based on her Masters and PhD work (and why not, she passes on a lot of knowledge), which does show through with the copious notes and references and yes at times the tone of the book wavers in between an academic tone and a popular history tone, however at no point is it unreadable or overly academic and actually is very readable throughout.

So on balance quite a good read. If you're into maps, mapping and OS (and who doesn't love the OS), you'll find this book interesting and informative. If however you're looking for a history of the modern OS, not just early history I'd suggest you look elsewhere.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 March 2011
I agree with the view that this is a (no doubt precociously shrewd) cashing in on a PhD thesis. The author really should have brought this history of the Ordnance Survey up to date with recent developments in map-making. I also found the links to Enlightenment thought and poetry inspired by the British landscape too waffly.
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on 14 March 2012
Map of a Nation. A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt. Granta Publications.

"A brilliant book and its astonishing that on one has thought of writing it before..... History at its best." So states A N Wilson on the front cover. I do not have the reputation or experience of A N Wilson, but I consider it neither brilliant nor history at its best. It's a PhD thesis cobbled together with literary padding and as a result fails as a piece of satisfactory literature or a good thesis presentation. A particularly aggravating feature is the absence in the text of reference numbers. When reading a book of this type it is important to be able to identify a reference of interest as one reads the text, rather than hunt around in the reference section for a particular link between text and reference. This is a great shame. As an experienced user of both land maps and navel charts I found the subject matter fascinating and technically stimulating.

Many books of this nature drop the reader into the subject with insufficient background, but Hewitt starts with the unexpected history of the 1745 rebellion as the genesis of the Ordnance Survey as we know it today. Triangulation is well known to map user today, but its development makes interesting reading. The split between the triangulation mapping and the Interior Survey fills in the gap between the two elements of the process for which many readers will be unaware. The text also illustrates the dedication, endurance and meticulous approach of the leaders in the endeavour, Roy, Mudge, Colby and the many members of the Survey. It was impressive to note the `hands on' experience of those in charge so that errors and below standard surveying were readily spotted.

Sadly the reader is drawn away from the core story by too many diversions into literary dead ends, graphically illustrated by the pointless discussion of the confrontation between O'Donovan and Mangan in the chapter on the Irish Survey. When I reached the epilogue I was hoping for at least a brief synopsis of how the Survey progressed from 1870 to the present day through aerial photography to the satellite aids to navigation and mapping. But no. A strange tale of the author being cornered by a large canine in remote corner of Scotland.

A stronger editorial hand would have been beneficial in keeping the author on track and ensuring a more experienced literary style. Despite the above comments I found this volume an interesting and instructive read and would recommend it to anyone interested in maps and their origins.
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on 11 July 2012
I thought this might be a complete history of the OS, an organisation based in my home city of Southampton, but it isn't really. I love maps, particularly the sumptuous OS landrangers so was looking forward to learning all about those and how they are made etc etc but this book stops short a couple of centuries ago.

What is covered is interesting in parts but I would have preferred that the history came up to date. Also I was surprised that for the cover price the book has over 100 pages of references etc - I pity anyone who shelled out £25 for it.

What really got up my nose was the incredible overuse of her own editing /amending to make the narrative read correctly rather than leaving the quote as that. On most pages we have [] to insert a word which is tiresome. This came to a head when she quoted something from a F[ellow] of the R[oyal] S[ociety] - I mean surely someone reading this book knows what FRS stands for? If not then a glossary or footnote would be better in my opinion.

What I didn't realise was that the author had submitted a similar work for a PhD and other reviewers on here suggest that this is an edited version of that - I think this is spot on - you can see the joins.

This could have and should have been so much better, it is okay but no more than that.
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This book is subtitled A biography of the Ordnance Survey, but says very little about what's happened since 1870. this is the first serious history of the Ordnance Survey, and I suspect the period covered is the most interesting period anyway.

The Ordnance Survey was actua;;y set up in 1791, but the author begins with the aftermath of Culloden. While the 1745 battle was embarrassingly one-sided, the aftermath showed a need for proper maps, because of the difficulty of catching escapees. Bonnie Prince Charlie was never caught. A series of Scottish was created between 1747 and 1755, leading eventually to the creation of the Ordnance Survey, although it took until 1870 to cover the whole of the UK because the Ordnance Survey was often side-tracked by other projects. During that period, the industrial revolution started and some maps already published were updated, causing further delays.

The history of the Ordnance Survey up to 1870 is far more varied than I expected and makes a great story.
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on 22 January 2011
Like many readers of the book I am a map addict.
This history of the Ordinance Survey puts the technology of map making into its social and historical context which, unlike some reviewers, I found of great interest.
Neither was I put off by the fact that the book is a considerable work of scholarship; the book is worthy of the complex subject with which it deals.
Since I have walked over a lot of the far north west of Scotland I have great admiration for those hardy individuals who, before the days of trains and good roads trudged over those hills and around those lochans with all their gear.
One thing I missed was a photograph showing just how the bronze plates on the top of trig points were used to hold the surveying instrument.
A good read, and technically well written
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on 6 February 2011
I'd love to read a biography of the Ordnance survey but, Rachel, it still exists today, life for OS didn't end in the 19th century. What about all the exciting developments since? The National Grid? Right up to digital and OpenData?
The book came to an unexpected end, still plenty of years and OS story to tell, still 100+ pages but when I got there they turned out to be notes, references, index.
As the audience is map-lovers I'd expect to see far more extracts from maps too.
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on 30 December 2010
An interesting and well-written history of the creation of the Ordance Survey. Good style and a short chapters make this book and it's serious subject quite easy to read,
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on 25 November 2011
She does a good job of making some probably rather dreary surveyors come to life. Much time is spent on Scotland and Ireland, less on England or Wales. Most disappointingly, it stops its narrative in 1870 and ends with a trite, self-regarding epilogue. No wonder it's marked-down.
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on 8 February 2011
As I have a keen interest is maps and mapping I found the book very interesting. Some parts might be too technical for the average reader.
Those without a basic knowledge of trigonometry might find the explanations a bit limited.
All in all a considerable piece of work.
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