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Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names Hardcover – November, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha Amer Inc (November 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568361742
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568361741
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,472,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This amusingly written little book contains a wealth of fascinating and arcane information about maps and cartographers. Maps rarely illustrate what they purport to show, notes the author. Rather, the orientation of the continents, the names and borders of countries and whether or not they are inhabited, the migrations of peoples, and the presence of ethnic groups?all reveal the political and economic motives of cartographers. Thus, Japanese maps label the Kurile Islands with Japanese names, Russians maps with Russian names, and Arab map makers deliberately omit Israel. While medieval maps were peculiar combinations of folklore and religion intended to entertain, early modern maps, designed for a country's financial profit, tried to be scientific. Nelson (The Ads That Won the War, Motorbooks, 1992) has here produced a book with wide appeal. Recommended for public and academic libraries.?Bennett D. Hill, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

An informal discussion of how the deceptively solid boundaries and names appearing on maps (past and present) represent the intersection of geography with history, fantasy, prejudice, propaganda, wishful thinking, and pure chance. Maps are an attempt to depict an unstable world with a complex past and, as Nelson (Moonshiners, Bootleggers, and Rumrunners, not reviewed) notes, to ``send ominous messages and trace ethnic and religious fault lines.'' At any given time, more than a hundred boundaries are disputed, but some maps skirt reality or create their own. For example, Arab maps ignore Israel or call it Palestine, and Syrian maps claim territory for Syria that has been part of Turkey for 50 years. But then, imaginative map-making has an established history. During the Middle Ages, the kingdom of Prester John was a staple of European maps. Even an increase in firsthand accounts did not ensure accuracy; for example, Columbus insisted that he that he had reached the Orient, and accommodating cartographers stretched Asia to fit his claims. One place may acquire several designations because of transliteration snags, mispronunciation, or misunderstanding, as when Chinese told foreign traders that they were from Chin (their ruling dynasty) rather than Kung-ho-kuo (their country). Some names reveal fragments of local history: Mohawks sneered at the hunting skills of Algonquins residing in New York State's northern mountains by calling them Hatir¢ntaks (``they eat trees''), whence Adirondack. Others trace changes in government, as when St. Petersburg changed to Leningrad and back again. Place names can be wonderfully descriptive, such as Mose-os-Tunya, ``smoke that thunders,'' or imperialist, such as Victoria Falls, thus named by David Livingston. Such claiming by naming continues even today: While orbiting the moon, astronaut James Loving dubbed one of its peaks Mount Marilyn, for his wife. Enlightening entertainment for those who browse the atlas so long that they forget what they meant to look up. (50 maps) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Its kind of really basic mistakes like that which bother me.
A. Woodley
I finished it in only one morning of reading, amazing for me, considering I usually become distracted or bored with most books that aren't solely on whaling.
Robin A. De Roo
I highly recommend this book for the casual reader as well as the academic.
Ward Carroll (wardncarrie@earthlink.net)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By H. Szymonik on January 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After reading only the first 35 pages, I had come across literally dozens of inaccuracies in Mr. Nelson's book. Easily over half the facts lack context, are misinterpreted, or just plain wrong. Examples: 1) Saying that Gaza is "now held by Egypt" [It's now under control of the Palestinian authority and ultimately still under Israeli control.] 2) "Before World War II, Silesia and Pomerania were located southwest of Poland, between Germany and Czechoslovakia" [Pomerania was NORTHwest of Poland, and Poland directly bordered Germany - no Czechoslovakia in between] With the amazing number of errors in this book, I would recommend it for only one reason: It would make an excellent history/geography project to have students go through and correct all the errors.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Ring on July 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This seems to be a hastily written book, which may be described as a real "manual of inaccuracies". To cite only a few (I spotted dozens of them): "the Basque Provinces of Asturias, Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia" (no comments! ); "Chili does mean hot pepper in Spanish" (chilli is a nahua word, spelled in Spanish "chile"); "The Quichua language was spoken by Indians in western Guatemala..." (actually, the Quiché language, while Quechua - and not Quichua - is the language spoken in the Andean region); "New York appears as Nueva York on a Brazilian world map" (this is the Spanish name for NY, not the Portuguese Nova York). This book is not more than a shameless attempt to make money.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on November 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Derek Nelson's book Off the Map is the historical equivalent of a bathroom book. This is not said to be derogatory. In many ways, that is the charm of the book. It is light, easy to read, and filled with many, many facts. There are too many facts coming at the reader to remember them all or to learn them. Instead, the reader will come away with the general knowledge of how important place-names are to a culture and how other cultures will view a place and give it a name of their own. Naming a place to some extent is a control issue and the struggle for control is an ever-changing idea. But even these ideas are too heavy to be sustained in this light book. This book is meant to read quickly and enjoyed throughout. It is cotton candy, sweet to taste but light on substance with a carnival happening just on the outskirts of the reader's eye.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I took a wonderful journey across the modern spectrum of geography with the author's work. I'm sorry a previous reader couldn't enjoy the same trip. This book takes geography out of the realm of academia and puts into the grasp of more readers. Having received an advanced degree in a related area, I know how what may have started as a small idea surely became an all-encompassing labor of love for the author. I appreciated his research and personally thought the editing kept the book on target. Give this one a read if you have the slightest bit of curiosity about how geography just isn't about states and cities, it ties the world together. Imagine my surprise when I found the book I had picked up on a whim was written by a Tidewater neighbor.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By drawidi@hotmail.com Tuluhan ERGUNES on December 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
While this is not a book with detailed account of included facts it surely deserves appreciation for its curiosity-satisfaction factor and rarity of its kind.
The book jumps from subject to subject helping to present more facts which seems to be the objective of its author.
It boils with facts and information that one could not find easily elsewhere and this is the joy in it. I enjoyed it and strongly recommend to others.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
What is this? To call the Italian navigator Giovanni Cabotto (John Cabot, for English speakers) an "English explorer"? To seriously propose that the name of the Republic of Chile is somehow related to a Native Mexican word for "pepper"? To confuse the Quechuan language of the Andes with the Quiché peoples of Guatemala? To actually wonder whether the name of the Indonesian island of Java is somehow related to coffee? Laughable assertions such as these are found throughout "Off the Map". This book demerits its purpose, which should be to promote knowledge.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
Interesting facts throughout, however, the book jumps all over the map (so to speak) and back and forth through history. It was difficult to follow the train of thought sometimes. He also puts forth an idea of pictures instead of place names about half way through the book, then proceeds to talk about it sparingly in the chapter. Interesting facts, but not well organized.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ward Carroll (wardncarrie@earthlink.net) on August 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I found "Off the Map" to be a breath of fresh air in a discipline that has fallen from grace of late. Mr. Nelson's true love for history and the human frailty behind it is evident throughout the work. I highly recommend this book for the casual reader as well as the academic. A delight!
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