Scholarly probings into the evolution of atlases as embodiments of science, philosophy, and artistry. A decade back, the Library of Congress, holder of the largest cartographic collection in the world, held a symposium on the past and future of the atlas as a means of recording and disseminating spatial information of all kinds, a graphic representation of the human occupancy of the earth. Participants were asked to consider the story of the atlas as a book, revealing the slow changes in printing, format, and color, identifying how these reflected the period of their production, and speculating on the fate of the printed atlas in the age of the database. The 15 essays in this heavily illustrated volume (first presented at the symposium) span the entire history of atlas-making around the world. Particularly good are contributions from Mei-Ling Hsu on the unusual concepts and celestial fixations of early Chinese atlases; Gunter Schilder on the evolution of pilot books from octavo booklets to the great folios of the nautical atlases; Walter W. Ristow on the publishers of early American atlases; and Barbara B. Petchenik on the future of printed maps (she suggests that they may soon be no more than a method of providing children with an understanding of spatial meaning, while the rest of us will be turning to software to answer cartographic questions). An adequate number of the maps are reproduced in color, though more might be wished for, and the editors, curators of the Library of Congress's map collection, could have enlivened the prose a tad, for some of the essays are dry to the point of aridity. Map lovers will be gratified to see their tax dollars put to such thoughtful, elegant, and tangible use.
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