A biography of the only mapmaker nonspecialists are likely to have heard of.
Mercator (1512–94) was born in Flanders as Gerard de Cremer, Latinizing his name, as did many learned men of his day. British historian Taylor (God's Fugitive, 1999) begins with a summary of the state of geography in the early 16th century, built, as it was, on such ancient authorities as Ptolemy but incorporating recent discoveries in the Americas and Asia. Mercator, he believes, was drawn to geography and cartography as disciplines that combined classical knowledge with the heady news being brought by returning adventurers to port cities all over Europe. At the same time, a good mapmaker could make a great deal of money by supplying the rich and powerful with accurate maps and globes. In Mercator’s case, even at the apprentice stage of his career, his craftsmanship set him apart. By age 30, he was doing commissions for clients ranging from Spain’s Charles V to the Turkish Sultan: maps of England, Lorraine, and Europe; atlases; and matched pairs of terrestrial and celestial globes. For all, he drew on the most current information he could gather, whether Copernicus’s sky maps or documents from the recent English Arctic expeditions. His careful courtship of the powerful stood him in good stead even when, in 1543, for reasons Taylor can only speculate on, he fell afoul of the Inquisition. On his release, he moved to Duisberg, in Cleves, where for the rest of his life he managed to avoid the bitter religious conflicts sweeping Europe. In 1569, he produced his masterpiece: a large (53 x 84 inches) world map based on the cylindrical projection that has become permanently associated with his name. Taylor methodically fills in the details both of Mercator’s career and its historical context, and he concludes by arguing that Mercator was, on the whole, a true scientist despite the limitations his era imposed on him.
Very slow-moving, but informative.