Map geek and celebrated Jeopardy! winner Jennings (Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac: 8,888 Questions in 365 Days, 2008, etc.) tells the engaging story of maps and the people who love them.
At age 7, while friends obsessed over He-Man and Knight Rider, the author succumbed to the names and shapes of remote places and began collecting atlases. “You see that first map, and your mind is rewired, probably forever,” he writes. Determined to better understand his cartophilia, he offers a wide-ranging history of maps (which predate writing) and visits many present-day “mapheads” who make, use, collect, buy and sell or steal maps. Most Americans remain ignorant of geography, he writes. Once deemed a pillar of a good education, the subject has vanished from most U.S. schools, and few of even the best colleges now have a geography department. Still, Jennings discovered a thriving community of map freaks—many “gifted spatially”—who spend much of their time around visual representations of places. Among the Library of Congress’ 5.5 million maps, he found several that played key roles in the D-Day invasion and the moon landing. At the annual London Map Fair, he observed insular collectors of antique maps. Map collecting began in the Renaissance, he writes, and soaring prices have made it a hobby for the affluent. Thefts have increased dramatically, as thieves armed with X-Acto knives easily pilfer treasures from libraries. Today’s map geeks often pursue such hobbies as traveling abroad with checklists in hand to “collect” countries; riding U.S. roads to “clinch” routes; and using GPS or other navigational devices to hide and seek containers (“geocaches”) around the world. Paper maps are losing ground in the digital map revolution, but the lure of place continues to beckon through Google Earth and other digital technologies.
Fun and informative.