By Olga Godim
On the Map is a fascinating book.
obviously loves maps, and his infatuation is contagious. He rhapsodizes on the
history of maps and their beauty, the people who created maps and the people
who used them. Explorers and monks, scientists and artists, sailors and doctors
– they all found their places on the pages of this book.
to Google, maps have been a part of human life, and the author traces the evolution
of the world maps through the centuries and around the globe. In addition to
the mass of meticulously researched but slightly dry facts, he includes plenty
of engaging stories in his chapters. The book is ripe with those stories. One
of the more fascinating tales involves the reason why America is not called Columbus. Some stories are about the creation
of famous maps, while others are anecdotes, tales of human gullibility, or accounts
of extreme courage. Some are tragic while the others are whimsical or hilarious.
After the amazingly precise maps of the ancients—the most famous being Ptolemy’s map—
a decline in cartography. For the next more than 1,000 years, the world maps
produced in Europe were mostly mappa mundi. Some of them survived to
this day. Usually, such medieval maps centered on Jerusalem. They had nothing to do with
geography and everything to do with the religious view of the world – in
pictures and words. Morality tales in visual form, they were frequently filled interesting-looking
beasts of the creators’ imagination. One of those beasts was Bonacon – a ram-like
creature, shooting its ordure at its enemies as a defense mechanism. A charming
species, to be sure. Of course, those maps were not intended for travel but
were rather philosophical statements of the time.
Then, when the great journeys of
Columbus and the rest of that bunch took
place, Ptolemy’s map became popular once again, and serious cartography rose in
prominence. There is a myth that Columbus himself had a copy of Ptolemy’s map
with him, when he sailed for India
and discovered America
instead. Talk about the reliability of old maps!
The first Atlas and the history of travel guides, the city maps and the original British Ordnance Surveys (where even toilets could be found) – the enormous upload of information in this book is overwhelming. Names, dates, and places abound, but the numerous amusing interludes, sprinkled though the book, make it supremely entertaining as well as educational.
|Simon Garfield (photo by Justine Kanter)|
Another interesting tidbit: the legendary Mountains of Kong – the invented, impassable mountain range that crossed
west-east on the maps from 1798 on for almost a century.
Or how about this morsel: for one Middle Ages pilgrim, it took 230 changes of donkeys to get from
to Constantinople. And of course, the man
recorded his travels for posterity.
From geographical maps, the author proceeds to imaginary maps and treasure maps. There was an industry of treasure maps blooming in the middle of the 20th century. One could buy an Atlas of Treasure Maps for $10, filled with sunken ships and buried pirate treasures.
While some of the maps were frivolous or outright silly, others were almost heroic. Did you know that during the WWII, the Monopoly makers secreted high-resolution maps of several European countries underneath the game boards in a few special sets? Those sets were then sent by Red Cross to the Nazi’s concentration camps in
attention of the military POWs. Some of those maps helped the captives escape.
And then there were medical maps, drafted by doctors. One of them – a map of the cholera outbreak in
in the middle of the 19th century – eventually led to the construction of London sewers
The book is engrossing and informative, written in a clear, precise language, and peppered with humorous asides. It includes lots of enthralling illustrations. Highly recommended for anyone – a map enthusiast or not.
About the Reviewer: Olga Godim is a writer and journalist from
, Vancouver . Her
articles appear regularly in local newspapers, but her passion is
fiction. Her short stories have been published in several internet magazines,
including Lorelei Signal, Sorcerous Signals, Aoife’s Kiss, Silver Blade, and other publications. In her free time,
she writes novels, collects toy monkeys, and posts book reviews on GoodReads. Her first novel, Lost and Found in Canada , has just been
released from Eternal Press. Russia