On The Map

Speaking of maps, as I believe we were, I recently spent several happy days with a book that straddles the intersection between cartography and history.

Simon Garfield, author of the bestselling Just My Type, once again takes a subject that seems the province of a small group of enthusiasts and opens it for a larger audience. In On The Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks , Garfield tells the history of cartography, beginning with the Great Library at Alexandria and ending with Google Earth. Along the way, he links the development of maps to the larger history of human progress–from the theory that the first maps, drawn in the dust of Africa’s Rift Valley, may have kickstarted the development of the human brain to modern efforts to map the brain itself.

Written in the breezy style of Just My Type, On The Map is structured as a series of engaging stories told in more or less chronological order. Each chapter uses a specific map, person, or idea to explore a bigger issue. Interspersed with the main chapters are smaller, more eccentric stories that Garfield calls Pocket Maps: detours that consider the origins of “here be dragons”, the different ways man and women read maps and the difficulties of refolding a paper map. Whether dealing with familiar topics, such as the Lewis and Clark expedition, or introducing the reader to stories that are less well known, like the legendary (and imaginary) Mountains of Kong, Garfield consistently delivers “aha!” moments.

On The Map will appeal to mapheads, history buffs, the terminally curious, and anyone who enjoys a well-told story


This review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers


  1. Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm on January 22, 2013 at 2:37 am

    Ooooh, sounds awesome. Missed this review in the Shelf!

    • pamela on January 22, 2013 at 2:40 am

      Definitely one of my favorite Shelf reads in 2012.

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