Magazine article Geographical

THE RED ATLAS: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World

Magazine article Geographical

THE RED ATLAS: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World

Article excerpt

THE RED ATLAS: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alexander J Kent; The University of Chicago Press; [pounds sterling]26.50 (softback)

An inveterate armchair traveller ever since my Soviet childhood, I have always loved maps, which used to provide me with an imaginary window to the outside world--the only one available in the USSR. Much later, when already living in the West, I found out that all maps in the Soviet Union carried deliberate errors, purposeful paranoia-driven deviations to mislead Western spies. Maps, apart from giving joy to both real-life and vicarious travellers, could also be powerful weapons. To quote the authors of The Red Atlas, 'Maps are instruments of power'.

There were few (if any) mistakes--deliberate or other--in the Soviet cartographers' military maps of the West, as proved convincingly by the 350-plus extracts reproduced here. To me, they brought back memories of the lessons in Military Tactics at my 1970s Soviet university at which we--for some obscure reason--used the extremely well-produced maps of the area of West Germany around the town of Funfhausen.

Indeed, Soviet Cold War maps of the West--products of the 40-year global topographic mapping programme initiated by Stalin (from 1950 to 1990)--were truly spectacular, both technologically and artistically. …

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