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
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