Around the World in 80 Maps by Clare Hibbert

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Around the World in 80 Maps by Clare Hibbert

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Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: I found a heck of a lot on these pages – just not quite what I expected.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: September 2017
Publisher: British Library Publishing
ISBN: 9780712356930

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Maps – they're there to make sure you don't go wrong. They might portray one town, and the streets or the canals that feature in it, with proud city walls surrounding the place; they may convey the complex coast of a newly discovered island, or even in the case of Australia a whole continent; or they may just be coloured pink to show off what you consider to be your land. Either way, they have certainly progressed from the early days, getting more and more accurate on the whole, and portraying a more honest look at our world. But what can we learn from scanning back to when they were less informative and allowed you to go very wrong, when they had sea monsters and 'here be dragons', and just plain looked daft? This book is one of the more informative ways to find out the answer to that question.

I have to say I came to this book not quite expecting what I got. I thought we'd have a reproduction of 80 maps from history – you know, from Mercator up to Google Earth, via this important portrayal of this place, that of that place, and so on. That wasn't quite what I got – there are no references to different projections whatsoever. Instead the maps serve as beautiful things in their own right, but seem to be here more importantly as delivery devices for trivia…

We start with a global chart, which is all well and good except it's from a pre-Australia day. We then zoom in on Europe, and go through the continents (relocating Cyprus to Asia as we go, but the least said about that the better). Whatever we come across, whether it be country, region or city, comes with a few pop-up bubbles with factoids in them, regarding well-known foods, artists, explorers or other celebrities from that place, and so on. A database gives population figures from our day, and mentions a capital city, chief river etc. You also get several boxes with a sentence or two about history and/or what we're looking at, and for every page a quest – either to count this, or to find those, or suchlike.

And that was one instance of the book falling down slightly. I liked it that the one regarding the map of Dresden our RAF fire-bombers would have used needed us to use the key, but on the whole it's a 'Where's Wally' aspect – there might have been more edifying quests, and more in the way of a development of map-reading skills as opposed to just plain spotting things. I also had to raise an eyebrow when a box was referring to Denmark but pointed to the coast of Norway in error.

What I did like this book for, however, was the visual treat it served. The maps are astoundingly varied – just four years apart, but the charts for the Galapagos and Robinson Crusoe Island are utterly different. This visual aspect is the selling point for me – a look at how we've portrayed our world throughout the ages, and it was only another fault that it wasn't chronological but by region. I adored what I learnt of the mapping process, more than what they told me about the world – the different styles and approaches, the bizarre way St Louis looks to be a global metropolis, the many instances of North being on the bottom of the page that throw us this day and age… I loved the way a map can be shown to be such different things – the one of Mount Everest, with the near-impossible 'Where's Wally?', and the one, say, of Jerusalem, really don't seem to belong together.

And, of course, by the time the page is littered/brightened with so many boxes of trivia, the map itself has shrunk. I think there is a case of a book (admittedly for a slightly older audience than the one this is pitched at) that just gives us map after map after map, with nare but a line or two of subscript to inform us – a fantasy, time-bending atlas. Here the maps are great, but given to us so reduced that (a) I needed a magnifying glass for the conquests I was supposed to make, and (b) they're clearly not the raison d'etre of this book. It is using the maps not to convey maps and mapping, or even the mappers, but what was on the charts in the first place – the superlatives, the rare surprises and unique features, the basic quirks and facts of this little planet of ours we call home. These are welcome, and informative – I certainly was ignorant of the time Austria and Turkey fought for Belgrade, and what it would have looked like on a map of the time – but this is a provider of the historical soundbite as opposed to the full-on map experience.

I must thank the publisher for my review copy. We also have a review of Moments in History that Changed the World by Clare Hibbert.

What's Where on Earth? Atlas: The World as You've Never Seen It Before by DK is for a similar age range, but is more of a straight gazetteer of the world. For the adult market there are whole books looking at just one chart, and Sea Monsters: The Lore and Legacy of Olaus Magnus's Marine Map by Joseph Nigg is a wonderful book proving just how much unexpected fun that can be.

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