Day 437: A History of the World in 12 Maps

Cover for A History of the World in 12 MapsA History of the World in 12 Maps is an interesting look at the evolution of efforts to map the world, showing how each map is a reflection of the outlook of the culture that made it. The book is written by Jerry Brotton, a professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University and an expert in cartography.

Brotton begins by showing us a Babylonian map from the fifth century BC. Although crude and hardly recognizable to the modern eye as a map, it locates the major towns in this “known world” and the rivers. It places Babylon, divided by the Euphrates, in the direct center of the map. Clearly, Babylon was the center of the universe, or at least of the world.

Brotton takes us linearly through time, showing us such examples as the first world map using a projection, as described by Ptolemy; the Hereford Mappa Mundi from the 14th century, which places Jerusalem at the center of the world and locates the principal stories of the Bible; the Cassini maps, an attempt of the Age of Enlightenment to exactly map the entirety of France; and on to the ramifications of Google Earth. He discusses different types of map projections and why mapping an ovoid Earth on a flat surface will always involve distortions.

http://www.netgalley.comThis book is a serious effort rather than popular science, well documented and scholarly, but it is written in a clear and cogent style that should appeal to any reader, including interesting details about the different cartographers’ lives and work. The illustrations are beautiful, and the ideas thought-provoking. Brotton’s main point is that it will never be possible to create a world map that is completely accurate and unfreighted with the assumptions and attitudes of the people who created it.

9 thoughts on “Day 437: A History of the World in 12 Maps

  1. Ariel Price December 5, 2013 / 12:52 pm

    This sounds fascinating! You read such interesting books. Adding it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

    • whatmeread December 5, 2013 / 12:56 pm

      You’re welcome! I like to try to stretch myself.

  2. Cecilia December 5, 2013 / 2:09 pm

    I’ve heard much about this book as well. I think I will need to flip through this at a book store to get a better sense of it! It sounds great.

    • whatmeread December 5, 2013 / 3:27 pm

      That may be a good approach for this kind of book. You can get a look at the writing style and see if it looks interesting, etc.

  3. Carolyn O December 5, 2013 / 2:17 pm

    Totally up my alley, and sounds quite giftable too — I can think of three people who would love it.

    • whatmeread December 5, 2013 / 3:29 pm

      Hmm, now you’ve got me thinking. This was cool, because I originally downloaded this book from Netgalley, but it didn’t include the maps. I asked Netgalley if I could get the maps, and the publisher actually sent me the published book, not an ARC. Nice!

      • Carolyn O December 5, 2013 / 3:33 pm

        that is nice!

      • Audra (Unabridged Chick) December 6, 2013 / 9:00 am

        Oh, so envious! I gave up on this since the ARC didn’t have any maps — it never occurred to me to ask the pub to send them along!

      • whatmeread December 6, 2013 / 10:20 am

        Oh, dear. I didn’t exactly ask the publisher, I just complained to Netgalley that it was impossible to review without the maps to look at, and the next thing I knew the publisher was asking me if I’d like a copy! Might still work!

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