ON THE MAP by Simon Garfield


A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
Email this review


A vivid foray into the romance of maps.

This is a roughly chronological survey of choice moments in cartography, with Garfield (Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, 2011, etc.) keeping his focus trained on maps that present not just the lay of the land, but that transport and move us—maps that have something to say about who we are at some particular historical point in time. Although he starts with Eratosthenes, Strabo and Ptolemy, the author digs into the mysterious allure of maps after the strange interruption in mapmaking that followed Ptolemy for more than 1,000 years. Longer chapters provide lively histories of great maps, cartographic phantoms like the Mountains of Kong in Africa or the detective work of Dr. Snow’s London cholera map. Garfield is equally at ease with treasure maps, where the loot is guarded by dangerous reefs, angry birds and an army of land crabs, or when ruminating on the great blank spots in 19th-century maps of Africa, suggestive of empty territory for the imperial taking. The author punctuates these chapters with colorful cartographic squibs on, for example, Churchill’s map room or how Kit Williams’ jeweled hare was found (not by a close reading of Williams’ book Masquerade). Always present is a concern for how maps touch us: “We may detect the emotional state of the amateur cartographer through the graphite and the nib of hand-drawn markings, and because we know we are witnessing history as it happens.” Garfield also looks at maps in the movie Casablanca, which brought us to northwest Africa, how the game Monopoly made us familiar with Atlantic City and how GPS has such a hold on our everyday lives.

A fine, fun presentation of the brand of cartography that continues to whet our imaginations.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-592-40779-8
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Gotham Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


NonfictionTO THE LETTER by Simon Garfield
by Simon Garfield
NonfictionJUST MY TYPE by Simon Garfield
by Simon Garfield
NonfictionTHE ERROR WORLD by Simon Garfield
by Simon Garfield


NonfictionA HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 12 MAPS by Jerry Brotton
by Jerry Brotton
NonfictionPHANTOM ISLANDS OF THE ATLANTIC by Donald S. Johnson
by Donald S. Johnson
NonfictionPRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY by Tim Marshall
by Tim Marshall
NonfictionMAPHEAD by Ken Jennings
by Ken Jennings