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A History of the World in 12 Maps Hardcover – November 14, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In an era when Google Maps is regarded as a standard convenience, this history of 12 epoch-defining maps—including Google's—is a revelation. Renaissance scholar Brotton examines a cross-cultural sampling of historic world maps, exploring them as representations of both the Earth, and of the philosophical mores of the cultures that produced them. The maps range in function from the practical maintenance of empire to the spiritual concerns of uniting the earth and the heavens in a harmonious, universal whole. Each simultaneously represents a geographical survey, an aesthetic achievement, technological progress, theological instruction, and political demarcation. These multiple functions are mirrored in the structure of the book, which reflects political, philosophical, and cultural development. The maps are about humanity's changing relationship with itself, others, the Earth, and the heavens, and this broad scope makes for rich reading. Ultimately, the unifying function of each map is to rise above the earth and see with a divine perspective, and Brotton offers an excellent guide to understanding these influential attempts at psychogeographical transcendence. Of course, each historic map, despite the cartographer's efforts, contained inaccuracies, necessitating revisions—a humbling lesson for our current information-dense age. Maps. (Nov.)

From Booklist

Maps, both ancient and current, can reveal more than hard, physical facts such as rivers, mountains, and lines of latitude and longitude. They can also indicate the perceptions and biases of the cartographers and the cultures in which they labored. That is a recurring theme throughout this striking collection of maps, ranging from a world map based on Ptolemy’s second-century CE calculations, to a current Google Earth map. The maps and excellent commentaries that accompany them illustrate, of course, the advances of scientific knowledge about the earth. But they also show how these creators were influenced by their ethnocentric views and the political pressures of various interest groups. For example, a map from medieval Europe shows the Far East as a land under the sway of cannibals and outcasts, while a Chinese map portrays lands to the west controlled by savages. This is a stimulating and thought-provoking study of how the mixing of science, politics, and even religion influenced and continues to influence cartography --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (November 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023394
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 76 people found the following review helpful By robert johnston on February 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First paragraph ... I winced at the author's overwrought narrative style ... too many adjectives, adverbs and thesaurus derivatives ... too little Strunk & White editing. I'm perfectly comfortable reading overly complicated narrative but it wastes time wading through it ... I can't help being irritated by the style and so risk missing the substance.

If you can get past the overwrought writing style, you might think that the cartographer author would have taken a lesson from his own history and replaced words with sketches and notes. Every map discussed would be improved by the authors own sketch rather than 1000 words. One would expect a map book to be well illustrated but this one is not. The 5' long Hereford Mappa Mundi for example is deconstructed in narrative fashion. If the author had photographed his chosen maps ... imaged them with the best camera available... and then described them with side by side sketches, translations and notes, the book would be 100% better.

Cartography is a reading hobby for me and there are better books. The 12 maps the author chose are interesting, but by comparison, the author makes much ado ... way to much ado, over these.

I paid $26 for the book expecting quality maps illustrations and drawings as Kindle doesn't do maps well. As there are so few maps in this hardback, and the few maps that are here are dark, illegible, and downright terrible ... if you think that you must read the book, save the hardcopy money, buy the Kindle and use wiki to bring in the higher fidelity original images this author should have included in his book.

p.s. I write reviews to help consumers cut through the publishers representations and call the book as I see it.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The 12 maps Brotton has selected to represent the history of the world is interesting, with ample opportunity to discuss whether his selections are the most important representations of specific cultures. It is interesting to contrast his book with the related BBC series, "Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession" (2010). While Brotton's vast expertise, knowledge, and passion for maps is unquestionable, his book occasionally bogs down under the weight of events supporting the development of each map, but not directly related. IMHO, there is sometimes too much emphasis on politics, at the expense of technological and scientific advances in the art and sciences of geodesy, physics, and cartography. I understand Brotton's choices in this regard; I just feel he could have been more succinct with much of the politics. The result is, in places, a cumbersome narrative. In all, however, Brotton's book is a compelling analysis of maps as artifacts of art, culture, and power, and the way humanity views itself in the world.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Susman TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
To my regret I gave up on geography very early on in Schools days, map reading to me was a real chore and somewhat abstract. It was not until later on in life did I realise that maps could be much more, and the ideas presented by Jerry Brotton book `A History of the World in Twelve Maps'; manages to illustrate in an academic fashion, but not convoluted or highbrow, but rather palatable form the complexities behind maps in terms of their political, economic, social and very philosophical make-up. By looking at the people that put these paradigms together, and their need/reasons, that made put the maps they were working on in the first - but also the ideological pressures behind their decisions.

I give two broad examples; firstly the way in which European nations fought over Africa in the 19th and 20th century's used their cultural and diplomatic bias to 'carve up' the so called `Dark Continent', these boundaries and so called countries within Africa are still reeling from effects of these map makers. There is Hitler's use of Maps, to help prescribe the need for 'Lebensraum' - Living Space in the East and claims over Sudetenland. His use of maps to attain further concessions from those in Europe who thought they could somehow placate him through diplomatic appeasement. Ultimately Hitler had map in mind for Europe and much larger Germany at its center.

Mr Brotton's book is not necessarily a light read, but I found it fascinating, it throws out interesting ideas and concepts. Maps are not boring dusty items but full of information that may not always be self-evident; as one reviewer put it succinctly an `intelligent read' and I would recommend it.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Sid Nuncius TOP 100 REVIEWER on November 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting and beautifully presented book. Jerry Brotton manages to present very scholarly and deeply thoughtful ideas in an accessible way, although you do need to concentrate hard as this is not a filleted digest but a full development of his theses - among them that that maps are political and ideological constructs and say a great deal about their makers and the society they live in as well as about the places they depict.

Dense and somewhat challenging but well worth the effort is probably the closest I can get to an overall description of the book, so if you like a thoroughly intelligent read which will make you think about things you hadn't really considered before, this is definitely for you
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