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The Mapmakers: Revised Edition [Paperback]

John Noble Wilford
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 4, 2001 0375708502 978-0375708503 Revised
In his classic text, two-time Pulitzer Prize—winner John Noble Wilford recounts the history of cartography from antiquity to the space age. With this revised edition, Wilford brings the story up to the present day, as he shows the impact of new technologies that make it possible for cartographers to go where no one has been before, from the deepest reaches of the universe (where astronomers are mapping time as well as space) to the inside of the human brain. These modern-day mapmakers join the many earlier adventurers–including ancient Greek stargazers, Renaissance seafarers, and the explorers who mapped the American West–whose exploits shape this dramatic story of human inventiveness and limitless curiosity.

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The Mapmakers: Revised Edition + How to Lie with Maps (2nd Edition)
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Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'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

  • Paperback: 507 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Revised edition (December 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708503
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mapmakers ( revised edition Aug 2000) January 21, 2001
"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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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant May 12, 2002
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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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable account of the development of cartography October 10, 1999
By A Customer
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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great review of technical advances thru 1981. August 20, 1998
By A Customer
Many aspects of world history are seen in a different light after reading how man learned to accurately map and use maps for world exploration. European and Americas mapping is handled extensively. Africa and Asia are lacking in historical context, perhaps due to lost or unavailable records. Being published in the early 1980's, the book is missing the last 2 decades of technological advances of Global Positioning Systems in use today. Otherwise a WONDERFUL READ for anyone interested in geoscience, geography, maps, or history.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous adventure through the history of mapping the world
Perhaps maps will be incomprehensible and irrelevant to the next generation of people raised on GPS and navigation system, but even when that sad day arrives this book will provide... Read more
Published on November 10, 2011 by Paul Suni
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Stories
I read the original edition of this book -- several times. It's one of my favorite nonfiction books, ever. Read more
Published on April 22, 2011 by Ohioan
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
This is a great resource to give an entertaining and insightful look into the history of cartography. I highly recommend it.
Published on May 3, 2010 by Troxl Miner
5.0 out of 5 stars Map History Book
This book is excellent. It describes in amazing detail what it took to map our world. Read this book if your a fan of maps, interested in geography or are interested in some... Read more
Published on June 30, 2009 by Kenneth Rittenmeyer
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Interesting Review of Subject
Facisnating book, especially the ancient history and the posibility of Columbus knowing more about the New World than we may think (pp.72-76). Read more
Published on September 14, 2007 by OtherWorlds&Wisdom
5.0 out of 5 stars Mapping the World as we don't know it
Besides giving you a lot of information this book is also very well written. It feels like in the beginning of the book we have one big white sheet of paper and we have to get our... Read more
Published on April 10, 2007 by M. Buisman
5.0 out of 5 stars Maps of the world and beyond
This book is a history of map making, and hence a history of the world. Starting with the earliest known maps in Iraq in -2300 BCE, both the history of discovery of the world and... Read more
Published on October 1, 2006 by Gary Sprandel
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that teaches
I love giving people books as gifts. Last year, I gave this book to my father for Christmas. He seemed to really enjoy it, and this year he gave it back to me to read. Read more
Published on February 13, 2005 by mr sachmo
5.0 out of 5 stars Where It's At
I have always been fascinated by maps, as both sources of information and representations of nature's design. Read more
Published on August 27, 2004 by doomsdayer520
5.0 out of 5 stars Drawing in the map of the world
Besides giving you a lot of information this book is also very well written. It feels like in the beginning of the book we have one big white sheet of paper and we have to get our... Read more
Published on February 20, 2004 by M. Buisman
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