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Rhumb Lines and Map Wars: A Social History of the Mercator Projection Hardcover – October 1, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0226534312 ISBN-10: 0226534316 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226534316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226534312
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

"Any attempt to show how map projections work must include their rhetorical role, which involves goals markedly different from traditional cartographic tasks like describing boundaries, exploring patterns, and getting around. This rhetorical prowess, rooted as much in the map's symbols and generalizations as in its projection, makes the map vulnerable to diverse ideological interpretations. Thus the Mercator map can be viewed as an icon of Western imperialism while the [Arno] Peters map can connote fairness and support for Third World concerns." Monmonier, professor of geography at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, builds on this foundation a rewarding study of mapmaking and the uses of maps. His prime example of the rhetorical role of maps is the "map war" of 30 years ago over whether the familiar Mercator projection, with its inescapable distortion of the size of countries, is Eurocentric and diminishes the significance of Third World nations. "Although a potential for bias [in maps] exists," Monmonier writes, "broad assumptions of conscious or subliminal malevolence trivialize commonsense notions of bias and agenda. In my experience, the bias of ignorance, the bias of sloppiness, and the bias of tradition, individually or collectively, are far more prevalent than the bias of political ideology."

Editors of Scientific American (209)


"In Rhumb Lines and Map Wars, Mark Monmonier shows that controversies that have ignited as soon as different projections--and there have been many--emerge, each attempting to make a flat map of a ball's surface more like reality. Some of these show the globe distorted into the shapes of lampshades, inverted triangles, hearts, half-eaten doughnuts and rounded zigzags, as weird as dreams. Politics, nationalism and international prestige caused these wars. Monmonier thinks that such arguments overrate the power of maps. He writes well and simply."
(Roy Herbert New Scientist 2004-11-06)

"A rewarding study of mapmaking and the uses of maps."
(Scientific American 2004-12-01)

"[Monmonier] offers yet another first-rate contribution to the literature on cartography. . . . An excellent book that deserves widespread attention."
(Jeremy Black H-Net 2005-01-04)

"Monmonier succinctly describes the methods developed over 400 years to delineate a round earth on a flat piece of paper, ever since Mercator's portrayal was a boon to 16th-century sailors. Clear diagrams show every stage of man's attempts to solve this problem, why it was posed, and how theorists tried to make it more suitable, as means of travel changed.  Thus, a projection suited to a sailor seeking to discover what lay across the Atlantic Ocean was unserviceable for airline pilots choosing the shortest route over the North Pole."
(Susan Gote Times Higher Education Supplement 2005-02-04)

"This little book exhibits a rare . . . combination of elements: scholarship, readability, and usefulness. . . . Although not a textbook on map projection, the book is a handy introduction to the subject and contains as much information as the nonspecialist is likely to need."

(Richard Ring Fine Books and Collections)

“This very readable book should be studied by anyone interested in correcting much public ignorance about the importance of map projections and their manipulation (sometimes deliberately) to distort our perception of the world. . . . A major contribution to cartography.”

(Terry Birtles Journal of Spatial Science)

"Rhumb Lines and Map Wars is both a primer in the history and geometry of map projections and a complaint against those who tread Mercator under foot. . . . Monmonier has much to say about the 'power of maps,' and covers a great deal of interesting ground, from the spider's web of medieval portolan charts to the mathematical armature of satellite cartography."
(D. Graham Burnett London Review of Books 2005-11-03)

"The book works at several levels and is successful in each. . . . It is engagingly written and well illustrated, as one would expect from Monmonier, arguably the world's foremost popular map historian. And it is an appeal for us all to be more aware of the importance of different map projections, their flexibility and their limitations."
(Charles W.J. Withers History)

"Geographers and cartographers once again owe Mark Monmonier their thanks....This insightful and interesting book further adds to Monmonier’s reputation as an author capable of enlightening students, technicians, professionals, and anyone who enjoys maps and mapping."

(Dennis Fitzsimons, Professional Geographer 2006-11-01)

"This book makes a major contribution to the debate through its presentation of an intellectual and social history of the Mercator projection. . . . An excellent book, interesting and accessible to both cartographic professionals and the educated general public."
(Brooks C. Pearson Geographical Review)

"There is a story to be told here, and Mark Monmonier is certainly the person to tell it. He does so with gusto. . . . Rhumb Lines and Map Wars will be relished by a general audience."
(Rienk Vermu ISIS)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Julian Elson on March 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I understand the rage that the professional cartographer class feel for the waning advocates of Gall-Peters projection. I really do: Cartographers have, over the centuries, developed probably more equal-area maps than any other sort of map projection (after all, the mathematics of equivalence are simpler than the mathematics of conformality or equidistance), producing myriad equivalent maps from the pseudocylindrical sinusoidal map (possibly invented by Mercator himself) to the more comely elliptical Mollweide projection and its superficially similar but mathematically distant pseudoazimuthal cousin, the Hammer-Aitoff projection to Lambert's equal-area conic projection. When Mercator's conformal cylindrical projection acquires widespread, inappropriate use, the cartographic professionals quietly fight for less distorting projections. Then, in waltzes Arno Peters, with an accidental copy of a map-projection invented in the mid-19th century by James Gall, calling the establishment cartographers exploiters of the developing world and apologists for Western imperialism. Adding insult to injury, Peters at times seemed to claim to be the first area-equivalent map, although he admitted that there had been earlier ones when pressed upon the point. If that weren't enough, Peters' projection displayed a Eurocentric bias in some ways more pronounced and deliberate than Mercator projection: after all, Mercator projection has no standard parallels to choose, but Peter projection requires a choice of standard parallels: Lambert, in originally formulating the cylindrical equal-area projection, chose the equator by default. Walter Behrmann moved the standard parallels to 30 degrees North/South of the equator, after some mathematical analysis trying to minimize distortion.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Monmonier has nearly cornered the market for popular discussion of cartographical issues. A distinguished professor at Syracuse University, Monmonier takes on here the fascinating history of the Mercator projection of the globe. This is the standard classroom world map that we have all seen on schools everywhere. It was created by Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator in 1569, a map that successfully took a three-dimensional Earth and presented it on a two-dimensional chart. The real success of this map was that it was useful for navigation. By following the longitude and latitude on the map one may sail to virtually any spot on the globe accessible by water.

This very practical use of the map for ocean-going navigation led it to become the standard for maps, certainly in Europe but also elsewhere, by the eighteenth century. It also has a fundamental flaw, and this is what Monmonier is most interested in. The higher and lower latitudes are stretched to ensure that the projection may be used effectively for navigation and thereby create false impressions of the land masses in those regions. For example, it appears on a Mercator projection that Greenland is as large as Africa. It also privileges Europe in terms of size. Generations of students have been misled by this image of the globe. More importantly, it might be that part of this was intentional. It served a political purpose by underscoring the size of importance of such regions as Europe and North America in relation to other part of the world such as Africa and Asia. It subtly supported colonialism and European civilization as the world leaders.

In 1974 Arno Peters, a German historian, created a different projection that correctly depicted the size of countries.
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