On The Map by Simon Garfield
|On The Map by Simon Garfield
|Reviewer: Robert James
|Summary: Garfield's engaging style and the sheer variety of maps discussed here make what could have been a dry subject into a staggeringly entertaining read. Truly superb.
|Date: October 2012
|Publisher: Profile Books
|External links: Author's website
Shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year 2012
You might think that there's not a lot which could be said about maps - but you'd be completely wrong. This is staggeringly good - one of the very best non-fiction books I've read all year. Garfield takes us from the Great Library of Alexandria to a map of the brain, via maps in films, treasure maps and JM Barrie's hatred of folding maps. Alternating between full chapters which tell the stories of cartographers and their maps in roughly chronological order, and shorter entries bearing the title 'Pocket Map' which pick out particularly interesting trivia, there's not a dull entry in the book.
From the shorter parts, we find out some fascinating facts - including the revelation that Elizabeth I made Francis Drake keep quiet about his circumnavigation of the world because she didn't want it appearing on maps, and the 'murder map' of a 19th century crime created by a teacher who would go on to achieve fame outside the world of cartography. Garfield's engaging style makes it easy to dip into random chapters, although it's also a pleasure to read from start to finish. We even get a closing chapter on mapping the brain, which takes us from phrenology to neuroscience in 14 pages, and does it with such skill that even someone as bad at science as I am can understand it!
There's also dozens of illuminating illustrations, including, as you'd expect, a great number of maps. Again, these cover an impressive range, from Hereford's Mappa Mundi, to a map of the world overlaid by Facebook connections, via Harry Potter's Marauders' Map and the mean streets of Liberty City, from the Grand Theft Auto series of games.
Absolutely huge recommendation to anyone, whether or not they have a particular interest in the subject to start off with - I'm sure they will by the end of this wonderful book. You might say that it deserves to put Simon Garfield on the map! (Admittedly, if he hadn't written a dozen or so books previously, that pun would be more appropriate, but I couldn't resist shoving it in there. Sorry!)
For another non-fiction author with a similarly readable style, and a book with a diverse collection of subjects, don't miss 42 - Douglas Adams' Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything by Peter Gill.
You can read more book reviews or buy On The Map by Simon Garfield at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy On The Map by Simon Garfield at Amazon.com.
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