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The Mapmakers, Revised Edition Hardcover – September 5, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Greco-Egyptian emperor Ptolemy III made a shrewd hire when, in about 240 B.C., he appointed a bookworm and poet named Eratosthenes to be the librarian of the great Alexandrian Museum. Eratosthenes, derided by his envious colleagues as a second-stringer, nursed an insatiable curiosity about the natural world. Acting on hunches and sailors' reports, he decided to conduct an experiment to measure the earth's circumference, which he eventually reckoned to be 46,000 kilometers--a little far off the actual mark of 40,000 kilometers but close enough that both Eratosthenes and Ptolemy entered history as founding fathers of the modern science of cartography.

In this vigorous history of maps and their creators, New York Times science writer John Noble Wilford recounts the accomplishments of dozens of cartographers from many cultures and times, among them Gerardus Mercator, Francis Beaufort, Charles Mason, and Jean Fernel. Ranging from ancient Chinese scrolls to the latest satellite images of distant planets, he renders a history full of "heroics and everyday routine, of personal and national rivalries, of influential mistakes and brilliant insights." He also reviews key scientific and technological advances that have accompanied the rise of modern maps, among them the development of fractal geometry, geosynchronous displays, remote sensing, and ever more accurate surveying instruments and techniques. --Gregory McNamee


'A winning chronicle of mapmakers over time and space... Wilford has combined the accounts to offer a variety of adventures and perceptions not so often well described.' Scientific American 'Fascinating... Wilford manages to make everything from the discovery of the longitude to advanced laser-beam technology clear.' Newsweek 'One begins to sense how very much of what we know about the makeup of our planet has come to light just the other day as history goes... Wilford has produced a brisk intelligent history.' New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 508 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Revised edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375409297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375409295
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #822,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
"The Mapmakers" by John Noble Wilford (ISBN 0-375-40929-7) published by Knopf/Random House in August 2000 is an updated version of the 1981 text. The revisions reflect the radical changes in the process of map-making that we already take for granted. It is of interest to anyone who has ever paddled along a complex shoreline, looked at a map, and thought " I could be here, there or anywhere". Or to anyone who has spent a winter dreaming of a lake or river, seen only in the mind's eye aided by a "window" created by maps...
This book covers the history of cartography or map-making from ancient times to the present day . Drawing on various sources, it explores the "need" to create maps both as a concrete form of communication describing the physical location of objects and our relationship to them, as well as the philosophical beliefs which can make "maps lie" based on the ideological bias of the map-maker, and the prejudices of the user. It traces in chronological format the evolution of maps (beginning in pre-history judging from some cave paintings) , from the Near East and Egypt in the period from 2000BC, to Greek philosophical conceptions of the world, to the civil engineering and mapping of the Romans, to the laughably inaccurate and fabricated maps of the early Middle Ages reflecting Europe's inward turning in the pre-Renaissance period. The Age of Discovery and the slow progress in developing maps for coastal trade reaching further and further from home, the new ( and rediscovered) technologies that aided the "mapping of both the African route to Asia, as well as the nascent understanding of the New World coastline, are covered in great detail.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this at Schiphol Airport as I had nothing else to read ... doesn't sound much of a recommendation, does it? - but the small cover photo of two surveyors perched on a precarious butte, though simple, begged my attention. It succeeded - and grabbed!
This book is deceptively large, due to the small font, tight spacing and thin margins.
But it needs to be:- there is so much information crammed in here ... all that the layman should ever need to know about maps & mapmaking, surveyors & surveying and discoverers and their discoveries. My only complaint is that there are no colour illustrations, which would have amplified the descriptions greatly.
The narrative style of Pulitzer winner Mr.Wilford makes for easy, yet highly informative reading, taking us from early Chinese maps with their variable scale to modern digital mapping of the cosmos, all the while inserting interesting snippets of fact and conjecture. He draws heavily on other authors (showing the depth of his research), but only to illustrate and augment the narrative. I took longer than usual to read this book, simply because I wished to savour the experience.
Required reading for all who wish to know how we came to view the world as we see it now. ...
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Format: Paperback
Wilford's training as a journalist served him well in writing this book. He has written a highly readable and information-packed history of cartography that gives enough analysis to please the scientifically adept reader while maintaining a brisk narrative that kept me enthralled. I especially enjoyed the early chapters on the discovery and exploration of the New World. Great stuff.
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Format: Paperback
This is a well-written book that provides a rich, deep history of the people behind the maps: Mercator, Magellan, Columbus, Cook, Cassini, et al. These historical figures and many others are discussed along with how necessity, ingenuity, and determination combined to drive these men to produce maps used by travellers, adventurers, and politicians.

However, a significant lack of technical detail really hurts this book. The author provides ample pages to the mapmakers but not enough to the actual mapmaking process, which is infuriating given that the book is over 500 pages long. For example, the methodology of triangulation is glossed over too briefly; instead of trusting the reader to have even a high school level knowledge of geometry, the author only states that the lengths of the two non-base sides are determined "with some calculation" (chapter 7). Basic trigonometric and geometric concepts are barely mentioned at all. As another example, when discussing the determination of latitude, the author only states that "... Picard was particularly skilled in using angle-measuring instruments and mathematical tables to fix latitude by determining the angular height of the moon above the horizon" (chapter 8). No more detail is given on this important calculation; even the most basic geometrical figures or expressions are left out. Further, throughout the book, I was anxiously waiting for the author to describe how explorers and sailors were able to chart out coastlines accurately, but this topic is never discussed.

The last few chapters, presumably written in 2000 as part of the latest edition of this book, are quite lacking as well. GPS, which was already quite popular in the 1990s, is not given enough depth.
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