Monday, 16 December 2013

Garfield, Simon "On the Map"

Garfield, Simon "On the Map. Why the World Looks the Way it Does" (aka: "On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks") - 2012

I have always loved maps. They are beautiful, they tell tales of far away countries, exotic worlds, people I will never meet, life at different times. How can anybody not like maps. They teach us so much, yet they are also an art form to admire and enjoy.

Simon Garfield has put together a collection of stories about maps through the ages. He does not just tells us what the most interesting maps are, he tells us the whole history. What did the first known map look like, how did it change over time, why do we draw maps the way we do, what do they tell us?

Any map is a drawing of a location as well as a political statement. While most of the first maps were drawn for sea voyagers and a lot of the continents were only known as an outline, things have changed. There is a long way from the Mercator to the Google Map. Simon Garfield tells us about this trip. He introduces the oldest map and the biggest map, he shows us how maps could help stop diseases, how guidebooks changed the way of travel and how satellite navigation changes our way of looking at the world.

If someone didn't care for maps before they got this book in their hands, they certainly will afterwards. There are stories behind every map. For example, I really liked the one about Phyllis Pearsall who walked the streets of London in order to publish the London A-Z. And he even mentions an episode from one of my favourite television shows, "The West Wing", where Press Secretary C.J. Cregg and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman attend a briefing by cartographers who want to change all maps in schools from the Mercator to the Peters Projection map and explain that Greenland is a lot smaller than Africa (fourteen times smaller, in fact), something you would never guess if you looked at the well-known Mercator map.

In one article, the author describes the way a lot of computer games are based on maps. This reminded me of one of our favourite first games called Bushbuck. It was a treasure hunt, you would be given an object that was well known for a certain town (usually the capital of a country) and you had to fly there. Along the way you would receive hints until you found the town. It was a wonderful game and we found exotic places like Tuvalu and Kiribati. A wonderful way to learn the countries and their capitals, unfortunately it does not seem to exist anymore.

If you didn't get the idea until now, I really loved this book.

One of my favourite quotes on page 63: "Most [maps] share a common purpose: they were not intended for use, at least not for travel use. Rather, they were statements of philosophical, political, religious, encyclopedic and conceptual concerns."

From the back cover: "Maps fascinate us. They chart our understanding of the world and they log our progress, but above all they tell our stories. From the early sketches of philosophers and explorers through to Google Maps and beyond, Simon Garfield examines how maps both relate and realign our history.
With a historical sweep ranging from Ptolemy to Twitter, Garfield explores the legendary, impassable (and non-existent) mountains of Kong, the role of cartography in combatting cholera, the 17th-century Dutch craze for Atlases, the Norse discovery of America, how a Venetian monk mapped the world from his cell and the Muppets' knack of instant map-travel. Along the way are pocket maps of dragons, Mars, murders and more, with plenty of illustrations and prints to signpost the route.
From the bestselling and widely-adored author of
Just My Type, On The Map is a witty and irrepressible examination of where we've been, how we got there and where we're going."


  1. I love maps too, asked for, and got a globe for Christmas last year. Put this one on my Amazon list, thanks.

  2. I think whoever loves readaing a lot also loves maps. It's always so interesting to look up on the map where we are in the novel, or in a non-fiction book, even better.

    Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. I wouldn't be surprised if you were.


  3. Well, I have another idea for a Xmas books for my husband! We have world maps & globes all over the house! Thanks for this discovery!

  4. So glad I could help out, Suzanne. I hope he likes it. Merry Christmas.