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Another Book Roundup

Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theater of the World is reviewed in the Washington Post by Lorraine Berry. See previous entry. [WMS]

The Huffington Post excerpts some maps from The Golden Atlas: The Greatest Explorations, Quests and Discoveries on Maps, and talks a bit with the book’s author, Edward Brooke-Hitching. [WMS]

The British newspaper i looks at a recent rush of coffee-table map books, starting with DK’s History of the World Map by Map: they interview retired journalist Peter Snow, who wrote the introduction to that book. [WMS]

We’ve seen a flurry of pieces about the future of paper maps lately; that’s the jumping-off point for PBS News Hour’s interview with Betsy Mason, one of the co-authors of All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey, which I reviewed last month. [NYPL]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Providence, Provenance and an 1841 Map of Lafayette

Colby Bartlett “took a chance” on a water-stained 1841 map of Lafayette, Indiana he found at a pawn shop, where the asking price was $80. But his research into the map’s origins took a completely unexpected turn. The Lafayette Journal and Courier has the story about how Bartlett inadvertently discovered the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s missing copy of the map before the library realized it had gone missing. Believe me, you want to read this. [Tony Campbell]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

The London Medieval Murder Map


A project of Cambridge’s Violence Research Centre, the London Medieval Murder Map is an interactive map that plots 142 murders from the first half of the 14th century onto one of two maps of London: a 1572 map from Braun and Hogenberg’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum or a map of London circa 1270 published by the Historic Towns Trust in 1989. The interactive map is powered by Google Maps, but the Braun and Hogenberg is not georectified, so the pushpins shift as you toggle between the base maps. [Ars Technica]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Giant 1940 Model of San Francisco Digitally Assembled

A massive wooden model of the city of San Francisco that has not been on display, at least in one piece, since 1942 has been re-assembled as a virtual model by the David Rumsey Map Collection. Built by the WPA, the model was assembled from 158 individual pieces to form a massive, 42×38-foot (12.8×11.6m) model at a scale of 1:1,200, and represented a snapshot of the city as it was in 1940. It’s available as a single composite image, as well as images of individual pieces; a Google Earth layer enables the model to be viewed at an oblique angle and superimposed on modern satellite imagery. Sections of the model itself will be on display at various branches of the San Francisco Public Library as part of Bik Van der Pol’s Take Part project; the exhibits will take place between 25 January and 25 March 2019. [Boing Boing]

Previously: Urbano Monte’s 1587 World Map, Digitally Assembled.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

A Tube Map of Earthsea

Everything under the sun can be expressed as a Tube map. Including, as blogger Camestros Felapton demonstrates above, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books. A glance at the original and official maps of Earthsea reveals that world as an intricate, almost overwhelming archipelago: Camestros’s map, like all good transit diagrams, expresses the books as journeys between points.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

World Magnetic Model Being Updated a Year Early

The World Magnetic Model—the standard model of the Earth’s magnetic field and a crucial part of modern navigation systems—was last updated in 2015. That update was supposed to last until 2020, but problems with the model started within a year of the last update. As Nature reports, a geomagnetic pulse under South America in 2016 made the magnetic field “lurch”:

By early 2018, the World Magnetic Model was in trouble. Researchers from NOAA and the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh had been doing their annual check of how well the model was capturing all the variations in Earth’s magnetic field. They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable limit for navigational errors.

As a result, the WMM is being updated a year early—this month, in fact, though the U.S. government shutdown is pushing back the release of the updated model.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Stanfords Cartographer: ‘Paper Is Going to Make a Comeback’

You know who isn’t worried about the future of paper maps and whether people still know how to use them? The people who actually sell them. The Guardian’s Kevin Rushby talks to Stanfords cartographer Martin Greenaway, ostensibly on the occasion of the venerable map store’s move to new digs in London; Greenaway thinks that paper maps are ripe for a comeback (Stanfords does a lot of print-on-demand maps), and points out a number of other map use cases that a mobile device simply can’t be used for. [CAG]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Barely Maps: Peter Gorman’s Minimalist Maps

With Barely Maps, Peter Gorman has reduced maps to their most minimalist, and their most cryptic: a grid of abstract shapes that represent the geometries of states, neighbourhoods, subway stops or intersections. Gorman started desigining them a few years ago as a side-gig, he writes. “Then, last year, my print ‘Intersections of Seattle’ went viral, and I decided to make the map-based art prints a full-time thing. Now, as I get close to 100 original maps, my next project is to compile a book of my designs, along with the stories that inspired them.” The maps are available for sale on Etsy; the book, he hopes, will be available by the end of 2019. [Kottke]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Old Phones, Old Maps and Old Tech

CNet’s Kent German asks people to stop tech-shaming over old phones and paper maps, though I’m not exactly sure who exactly does this (it’s not like he provides any examples). Anyway, one example he does use to bolster his argument is the time a paper map saved him from getting lost in France when his rental car’s GPS didn’t have updated maps; the graft to the larger argument in favour of not being so quick to abandon old tech in favour of the latest and greatest does leave some visible seams. (He also drags the post office into the argument. It’s Luddite potpourri.) [MAPS-L]

The argument for paper maps is getting ever more insistent, even shrill, but it seems to me to be mainly coming from the tech side of things. My impression is that the people who rely too much on mobile maps haven’t lost the ability to read maps; they never had it in the first place.

Previously: Popular Mechanics Proselytizes Paper Maps.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

GeoLounge Looks at Medieval Maps and Travel Guides

Over at GeoLounge, Caitlin has a brief and basic overview of medieval maps and travel guides, including T-O maps, travel guides for pilgrims, mappae mundi, and portolan charts. As she points out, only the last of these even attempted to be geographically accurate; the others had other purposes.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Map Books of 2019 Page

The Map Books of 2019 page lists all the books scheduled to come out this year—at least the ones I’m aware of. If there’s a book coming out in 2019 that should be on this page, let me know.

So far there are not many books listed, but that will change as the year progresses. Also keep in mind that publication dates shift all the time: keeping on top of those changes can be a sisyphean task, but I’ll do my best.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

All Over the Map

What works online does not necessarily translate very well into a book, but All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey (National Geographic, October), a very fine book from our friends Betsy Mason and Greg Miller, is strong evidence to the contrary.

For the last two and a half years, Betsy and Greg have written a blog of the same name for National Geographic; from 2013 to 2015 they did the same thing with Map Lab, a map blog for Wired. Their background with regard to maps is similar to mine: “We are not experts in cartography or its history; we’re journalists with a lifelong love of maps who were eager to learn more,” they write in the book’s introduction.

It’s an approach that’s worked well enough for me as well: there’s something to be said for beginner’s mind, and for approaching your subject unconstrained by what you already know. One thing I’ve noticed in more than 15 years of map blogging is how siloed mappers are: antique map collectors, GIS pros, academic cartographers, web mappers, map illustrators—they all work in their own corners, and there isn’t as much cross-fertilization between them as you might think. It may take non-specialists like us to see the big picture, because we don’t know enough about any one corner. “Maps” is too big a subject to master.

In that vein, “eager to learn more” can yield real results. Those results can be awfully eclectic, and All Over the Map is proof of that. There’s no real attempt to limit the scope of their subject: the book’s title, though borrowed from the blog, is not out of place. The book is loosely organized by theme, and those themes are themselves fairly broadly defined: “Waterways,” “Cities,” “Conflicts and Crisis,” among others; within that thin structure, we are introduced to maps of every time, place and subject: maps from early modern Europe and pre-colonial Mexico, maps of the Moon and the ocean floor, of ski hills, of rugged terrain, of enemy territory, of the flows of water and people. Online maps are reproduced with just as much care as an ancient manuscript.

Turning a blog into a book works better than you might think. The essays in All Over the Map (the book) have been substantially reworked and rewritten from their first appearance in All Over the Map (the blog). They work well in book form, for a couple of reasons. One, Betsy and Greg are more thorough than I am: whereas my old-school type of blogging emphasizes quick links with minimal explanation, they dig further into the subject, interviewing experts and even the subject (if still living).1 In other words, they’re journalists practicing journalism. And two, the form of the book—this largeish (30 × 25 cm), full-colour book—allows for the maps to take proper centre stage. It flips the relationship of the web page: the text is tiny, the images large. The maps can be appreciated better this way. Astonishingly, the blog is better as a book.

The maps they include are familiar, at least to me: they and I were working the same source material at the same time, and I don’t disagree with any of their choices. Not having a theme means that there is no reason not to include an interesting map, or to include an uninteresting map because it’s somehow important.

This is as catholic, as inclusive, a collection as I have ever encountered. As an introduction to where things stand in the mapping world, to the best of what I’ve seen lately, I’d have a hard time coming up with something better.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 15th Edition

How exactly do you review an atlas?

The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World (HarperCollins) is the flagship of the Times World Atlas line. (The others, in descending order of size and price, are the Concise, the Universal, the Reference, the Desktop and the Mini.)1 It’s the latest in a long line of Times atlases, tracing its heritage to the original 1895 atlas published by the Times and the 1922 Times Survey Atlas of the World produced by the venerable Scottish mapmaking firm, John Bartholomew and Son. Like its predecessors, it’s absolutely gargantuan: with the slipcase, it’s 47 × 32.5 cm (16.5 × 12.8 inches) in size and weighs 5.7 kg (12.6 lb). Only the National Geographic Atlas of the World is a little bit larger, and even it weighs less than the Comprehensive (4.5 kg or 9.9 lb).2

The 15th edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas came out on 6 September 2018 (and on 15 November 2018 in North America). HarperCollins has sent me a review copy, and I’ve been trying to come up with something to say about it.

What can you say, after all, about a big world atlas? It’s a world atlas: it does world atlas things. It has maps of different regions of the world at various scales, plus some informational maps and infographics at the start of the book. It’s awfully big, and needs to be laid flat on a table in order to consult it properly. It’s kind of an anachronism. All of which are true of most world atlases; where they differ is in the details: the physical size of the book, the number of map plates, the scale, the cartographic choices.

On those terms I could compare it to previous editions, which is something I did when I reviewed the ninth edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World because I also owned a copy of the eighth. Except in this case I haven’t seen a previous edition: I didn’t own any of the Times atlases before this one turned up. Nor, at £150 a copy, is the Comprehensive something I’d rush out to purchase every time a new edition comes out. (How many of us, having bought a world atlas, replace it at some point? Or buy another, for that matter? Is the first atlas you buy also the last?)

I could also compare it to the competition, except that it’s hard to say what that competition is. The Oxford Atlas of the World is more directly comparable to the smaller Times Concise in terms of physical size and page count. The National Geographic Atlas of the World (the tenth edition of which came out in 2014) is roughly equivalent in terms of size and number of map plates, but it diverges from the world atlas coloured relief map paradigm: it’s the National Geographic map division’s distinctive map style, familiar from a hundred folded maps included in the magazine, applied to a book-shaped object.

Treating a world atlas as a reviewable object on its own terms is going to be a challenge. Let me start by talking about the damn bookmark.

That Damn Bookmark Is Amazing

The 15th edition of the Times Comprehensive doesn’t come with a ribbon marker. (I don’t know if earlier editions did.) What it does come with is this bookmark, which at 42 × 14 cm matches the size of the atlas. It’s absolutely brilliant, because of what it has on the back: a legend. All the map symbols, all the typefaces and font sizes, all the lines and squiggles, explained in one spot.

It’s not like the competition doesn’t do this: both my editions of the Oxford (the 14th) and the National Geographic (the ninth) put this information on the endpapers. But putting it there means having to flip to the front or end of the book to look up a symbol. When you’re dealing with something the size of a world atlas, that’s awfully unwieldy, even with the smaller Oxford.

Probably because it can be consulted more easily (and more often), the legend on the Times Comprehensive’s bookmark is much more detailed. There are different type sizes and symbols for cities depending on their population. Unlike other atlases, these are defined. A city of between one and five million people will appear exactly the same on every map in this atlas (national and administrative capitals are also distinguished by a coloured symbol; national capitals are also in all caps), regardless of where you are on the map. The bookmark is a pledge of consistency.

(The symbols can be fairly hard to tell apart once they’re surrounded by the very busy maps, especially for someone with presbyopic eyes like myself. They’re all circles or squares with dots in them: more differentiation in shapes would be helpful.)

This brings up another point, about the difference between paper and online maps. The recent trend in online maps is to provide information based on context: labels appear and disappear based on your zoom level and your search terms. If you’re browsing—simply poking around the map, not looking for anything in particular—these design choices result in a hot mess. You might be staring at a large metropolitan area and see names of suburbs rather than the name of the conurbation as a whole: no New York or Philadelphia. (Speaking from experience, there.) There’s something to be said, in other words, for consistency, for making editorial choices and sticking with them—even if sticking with them is basically the result of it being on paper more than anything else.


Any atlas will emphasize certain regions at the expense of others: it’s a function of the readership its publisher is trying to sell to. As an atlas published in the United Kingdom, in English, the Times Comprehensive does about as you’d expect. Of 132 map plates, 40 are of Europe, comprising 30 percent of the total. Asia is next with 31 plates, or 23.5 percent, followed by North America at 23 plates or 17.4 percent. South America gets only eight plates (six percent), less than the Oceania section (11 plates, 8.3 percent), which makes up Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Most regional maps run between 1:2,500,000 and 1:5,500,000, depending on the continent; almost all the large-scale maps (1:1,000,000 to 1:1,500,000), with few exceptions, are in Europe. So it’s a bit eurocentric, yes, though the foreword takes pains to emphasize the atlas’s edition-by-edition trend away from eurocentricity.

That’s not to say that the atlas is lacking in detail outside those large-scale maps. Far from it. As a test, I looked for North Sentinel Island, Komodo National Park, and Hans Island: all were present and labelled. (All were also present in the National Geographic; the Oxford had Komodo Island but not the park, and had the best look at North Sentinel Island, in an inset map of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.)

Closer to home (literally!), my own village of Shawville, Quebec does not appear in any of the atlases (though smaller communities nearby do: clearly a conspiracy is afoot).


The Times Comprehensive manages cartographic controversies with a bit more subtlety than the National Geographic, which prints explanations in red ink. Disputes involving Crimea, Guyana and Kashmir are noted in black sans-serif text that is easy to miss; Transdnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not stand out; Gaza, the West Bank, Somaliland and Western Sahara get the font for disputed territories.

Disputed bodies of water are labelled with a bit of finesse: Sea of Japan (East Sea) and The Gulf (neatly sidestepping whether it’s Arabian or Persian). Parentheses also indicate new, alternative, non-English or deprecated names, e.g. Czechia (Czech Republic), East Timor (Timor-Leste), Swaziland (Eswatini).

Disputed boundaries and ceasefire lines are dotted in several different and specific ways. The Nine-Dash Line is absent; territorial claims are noted on a text label. It’s less informative than the National Geographic (which privileges the political more than any other atlas), but it’s less likely to render the map out of date later on.

Should You Get It?

Which I suspect is the point. It’s fair to say that a world atlas—especially a great big one with a list price of £150 or $200 ($275 in Canada) is meant to be kept for a while. Nobody buying the 15th edition of an atlas has a copy of the 14th lying around: the changes listed in the foreword signal that the atlas is up-to-date and therefore authoritative, not that it’s time to get rid of the old one.

It’s a reference tool, but not in the same way it was before online maps and reference tools were a thing. This is not something to look things up on. A big paper atlas is about browsing and it’s about context: big printed maps allow the eye to wander, to see connections. To stumble across places you weren’t looking for.

It’s useful, but not strictly speaking necessary.

Nor by any means is it for everyone, and not just because of the price. An atlas of this size is probably aimed at libraries and institutions rather than individuals. (Libraries should absolutely get this atlas, as well as several others, if they have the budget for it. That bookmark will disappear fast, though.) For individuals the sheer size of the thing is going to be a problem. As I wrote in my 2010 review of the National Geographic Atlas, “Trying to open up this atlas in your lap, or in your hands standing up, is just asking for it. (And if you think wrangling one atlas is fun, try wrangling two of them at once for the purposes of a review.)” That hasn’t changed. It’s hardly the Klencke Atlas, but you do need a large, clean table to consult this thing. It’s not something you pull casually from the shelf. Again: 12.6 pounds.

But I suspect that the people who would be undaunted and undeterred by such considerations will be found among this website’s readers. You don’t get something like this because you need it; you get it because you want it. A reference tool can also be an object of desire.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

New York Times: How Location Data Is Gathered, Shared and Sold

A long exposé from the New York Times explores just how much location data is collected from mobile apps, to the point where the identity of an anonymous user can be reconstructed from where they’ve been. The key point: whatever purpose the app is collecting your location for (for example, to give you your local weather), that location data may be shared with and sold to other parties.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Crowdfunding a Book of James Niehues’s Ski Resort Art

James Niehues, “Big Sky Resort,” 2013.

We’ve talked about James Niehues before: the legendary artist has painted hundreds of maps of ski resorts and recreational areas since the late 1980s. I was excited to learn that he’s producing a coffee table book that includes all of his maps. It’s being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Pledging $75 or more gets you a copy of the book; other pledge levels get you a high-quality print. Clearly there’s some interest: at the moment the project has raised more than $223,000 from nearly 2,000 backers, 28 times its target of $8,000, with three weeks still to go. [Kottke]

Previously: A Video Profile of James Niehues, Ski Resort Map Artist; James Niehues Passes the Torch; James Niehues’s Ski Resort Maps; James Niehues Profile.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Blame the Mercator Projection

Last Friday’s xkcd suggests that the Mercator projection’s reputation can be used to convince anyone of any false geographical fact.

Not that I’d suggest you do that, mind. No.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

DIY Map Ornaments

Meanwhile, Caitlin has a roundup of guides to making your own map-based Christmas ornaments. They include John Nelson’s printable geodesic globe ornament, a decoupage ornament made by gluing map cutouts onto a round ornament, and ornaments made by recycling old maps.

Previously: Waldseemüller Globe Ornament.

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Map Gifts for Children

On The Map Room’s Facebook page I was asked, in the context of this year’s gift guide, whether I had any suggestions for younger readers. All I could come up with was The Ultimate Mapping Guide for Kids. Writing in the Guardian, Vivien Godfrey of Stanfords does rather better than I did, providing a list of maps, books, games and puzzles for children. Very much British-focused. [WMS]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Grand Canyon Mapping Conference and Competition

The Mapping Grand Canyon Conference, to be held at Arizona State University from 28 February to 1 March, 2019, “explores the art, science, and practice of Grand Canyon cartography. […] Free and open to all, the conference promises a full two-day program of map-based story-telling, transdisciplinary analysis, state-of-the-art geospatial and cartographic demonstrations, engaging hands-on activities, and open community dialogue.”

The conference also includes a Grand Canyon map competition. Open to students, the competition seeks entries in three categories: artistic map, data driven map (static) and data-driven map (dynamic). Deadline is 20 January 2019. [NACIS]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones

Popular Mechanics Proselytizes Paper Maps

Popular Mechanics: “Even in 2019, there are good reasons to own a paper map, whether it’s the kind you can grab at the gas station or a sturdy road atlas […] that lives in your car.” This is a listicle, so six reasons are given, some of which are absolute rubbish: paper maps aren’t “nearly flawless” in terms of accuracy (they do go out of date), and they’re not inherently more comparative (checking vs. online maps) than checking one online map against another (e.g. Google vs. Apple vs. OpenStreetMap). Valid points about reliability and being able to plot out your own routes, though. [CCA]

Catégories: Sites Anglophones
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