Academic journal article The Geographical Review

A History of the World in 12 Maps

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

A History of the World in 12 Maps

Article excerpt

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 12 MAPS. By Jerry Brotten. xix and 521 pp.; maps, diagrs., ills., index. New York: Viking, 2012. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 9780670023394.

First it should be pointed out what A History of the World in 12 Maps is not. It is not an introduction to world history; in fact, a knowledge of that subject is useful for the reader to get the maximum enjoyment. It also isn't simply a history of cartography in twelve landmark maps. Nor is it a coffee-table book with color illustrations of the twelve maps and brief descriptions. Brotten looks at twelve maps that were created at "particularly crucial moments" and "either shaped people's attitudes to the worlds in which they lived, or crystallized a particular world view at specific moments in global history" (p. 13). He tells a story that he points out is discontinuous and marked by shifts and breaks, not the building up of progressively more accurate data--not the evolutionary approach taken in so many early histories of cartography.

The book, as would be expected, is organized chronologically and progresses from clay tablets to Google Earth, and the twelve maps represent the worldviews or problems of each period. Thus, the chapter titles (subjects) and maps are: Science (Ptolemy), Exchange (Al Idrisi), Faith (the Hereford mappa mundi), Empire (Kangnido), Discovery (Martin Waldseemiiler), Globalism (Diogo Ribeiro), Toleration (Mercator), Money (Blaeu Atlas), Nation (Cassini), Geopolitics (Mackinder), Equality (Peters), and Information (Google Earth). While more than a single map is discussed in each chapter, the "signature" map is the main focus. The chapters discuss technology--printing, projections, thematic maps, and persuasive maps--as well as the worldview of a society or culture at the time. Brotten recognizes the importance of understanding the technology of a period as it applies to maps, something that many recent writers of histories of cartography fail to do. The book is somewhat reminiscent in style to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything or James Burke's Connections in that the chapters are not a simple, straightforward discussion of the topic map, but rather weave connections to other maps of the time into the theme of the chapter.

The History of the World in 12 Maps is clearly written with an excellent introduction that discusses history of cartography and, of course, the now requisite discourse on "what is a map?" The book is beautifully illustrated: there are fifty-six color plates portraying the signature maps and other related maps of each period; thirty-eight black-and-white figures are also included. There are copious endnotes and an extensive index.

Two chapters deserve to be singled out. These discuss maps and concepts of the past fifty years--periods not usually discussed in histories of cartography, because earlier works usually focused on maps up to 1800. However, Brotten brings the discussion to the twenty-first century. The last topics of the book are: "Equality," which focuses on the Peters Projection and "Information," which looks at Google Earth. …

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