Book Review: “Map. Exploring the World” (Phaidon)

When I think about cartography, I am always fascinated by the different associations the term evokes in my brain: from map nerd to mathematical superbrain, from school atlas to interactive data visualisation, from “dusty” library map room to high end technology and design studio.

It is mind-boggling to see how cartography is undergoing this major shift from a somewhat peripheral if important scientific field to providing theoretical foundations for a large portion of today’s complex information visualisation branch (and thus gains an appeal of intellectual and aesthetic relevance it didn’t seem to have when I grew up…)

A Map of Vesuvius by John Auldjo (1832), courtesy University of Otago, New Zealand & Phaidon
A Map of Vesuvius by John Auldjo (1832), courtesy University of Otago, New Zealand & Phaidon

So it is with wonderful timing that London-based publisher Phaidon presents us with this stunning collection of material: “Map” collects not only traditional geographical maps, but also thematical and statistical pieces as well as map-based artworks, maps of fictional places and examples of subjective mapping (such as the scent maps by Kate McLean or hand-drawn maps from the “Mapping Manhattan” project).

Scents of Glasgow (2012), courtesy Kate McLean/Phaidon
Scents of Glasgow (2012), courtesy Kate McLean/Phaidon

It is great that the editors resisted the classic temptation to structure this wealth of material along a timeline, but instead chose to find pairs of maps. Sometimes these are maps of the same locations, sometimes maps which have a similar perspective (e.g. to track the spreading of diseases or creating a view of the world) or sometimes pairs based on lose association.

Double spread pairing Gerard van Schagen's 1689 world map (on the left) with Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Airocean World Map (1954) on the right
Double spread pairing Gerard van Schagen’s 1689 world map (on the left) with Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Airocean World Map (1954) on the right

The introductory essay is a concise overview of the history of cartography. Personally, I would have loved to obtain even more insight and a bit more of a synthesis on where cartography is headed. What do all maps in this extremely broad variety share? How is mapping the brain related to mapping the world? But this may be another story, to be told in yet another great book on cartography.

Come All the Way! Caminos Santiago (2011), courtesy Cinta Arribas/Phaidon
Come All the Way! Caminos Santiago (2011), courtesy Cinta Arribas/Phaidon

For now, I just enjoy diving into this wealth and savour the inspiration. What I really love is the diversity of the material presented, and it reminds me of a quote by German historian Karl Schlögel, who did a lot of research on the rhetoric of maps. Schlögel insisted that as every map is a construction, each map creates a world of its own. I guess there is no better way to illustrate this than the collection of maps in this book.

Map 2D

Map: Exploring the World (Phaidon 2015) Phaidon Editors with an introduction by John Hessler and contributors including Daniel Crouch, Susan Schulten and Kenneth Field. http://de.phaidon.com/mapbook/