Top critical review
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Long, detailed, occasionally slow and a little misleading.
on 6 December 2011
Let's make no bones about. This is an interesting book about a well loved institution. It seems to be a well researched book about a well loved institution. It will probably be bought by people like me who really enjoy looking at maps - almost any map, anywhere, and they will find,. as I did, many interesting things within in its many pages.
But let's also be clear about what this book is about: its about the origin of the Ordnance Survey and the production of the First Series of One Inch to the Mile maps (plus a few other things if the truth be told). It's not, as its title claims, of biography of the Ordnance Survey. It is a story that stops in the 1870's.
You will find few references to the Landranger Series of maps, or the Pathfinder series, or the 1:25000 Tourist Maps of the Lakes or the Dales. You won't find the beautiful One Inch to the Mile Map of The Lake District. In fact, you probably won't find any of the maps that people use today at all.
You will find a detailed and at times rather slow moving account of the early days of the OS, but that is all you will find. Oh, you will find a few mistakes as well - grid references do not identify a "point" in the landscape, they identify an area, which is why we say "I will meet you at the bridge at XXXXXX". Pillar in the Lakes is called "The Pillar", which is a strange mistake given that there is an extensive account of how the original map makers made sure they got the names of places correct.
This is a book with serious intentions - about 20% of the pages are taken up with references, but it is a history of the first 100 years of the OS, not an account of its whole history.
If you know this before you read the book, and you still want to read the book, you will find it excellent. But if, like me, you wanted just a hint of modernity, you may find it all just a little too academic and a little too distant.
Proceed with caution