Author: Betty Mason, Greg Miller
Summary: Fascinating and beautiful, this is an excellent example of a coffee table book worth closer scrutiny.
This was a fantastic collection of maps, each with a story to tell. Many of the maps reminded me of my favorite parts of The Visual Atlas. They displayed data in a way that made me understand the world differently. They examined everything from poverty and disease to flow of trade goods to endangered animal habitats. Many were also works of art. It was really interesting to learn how, in some cases, artistic techniques to help people form an accurate mental picture were prioritized over accuracy in terms of scale, distance, or angles between objects.
As someone living in the Bay Area, I found several maps particularly fascinating. I learned about ships buried under man made land masses to secure ownership of newly formed land in San Francisco. I also learned about the way this same land creates an earthquake hazard and about a particularly racist survey of Chinatown made in the 1880s. It will probably surprise no one that the section of maps related to science, the maps with implications for social justice, and the maps of fictional worlds were all favorites of mine.
The writing in this book was substantive and well researched, although it could have been more engaging at times. Tiny font did not help. The contents were biased towards the US and Europe, but there were certainly maps from other parts of the world, including some of impressive age. I just used the appendix to find all the California maps and the old Aztec or Meztec map I was thinking of, so I have to mention how well organized this was. The themed sections brought a cohesiveness to a diverse collection that could easily have felt disjointed. I hardly need mention the quality of the construction of the book at this point. It was just as good as all the other National Geographic books I’ve reviewed. Overall, an extremely fun collection, well curated and well made.