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Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 25, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, October 25, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on the Library of Congress's 4.8 million maps and 60,000 atlases, this is an overview of cartography in different times and cultures. Veteran picture editor Virga upends our notion of maps as two-dimensional representations of physical spaces by presenting depictions of imaginative or spiritual territory: a 17th-century map of the soul has five entry points, each corresponding to one of the five senses. And while we're accustomed to maps being oriented north, Islamic and some other cartographers oriented their maps south, as in an eye-opening 1996 Upside Down World Map made in Australia that shows the down under continent approximately where we usually see Greenland. Virga provides historical, sociological and anthropological background to each map. Captions for the plates are so small as to be almost unreadable, making it difficult to follow Virga's interpretations of the maps. Still, this is one of those rare coffee-table books that deserves to be read, that repeatedly delights the eye while informing the mind about the rich variety of humans' attempts to orient themselves in the world. 201 color illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"For anyone with a love of maps the book is a perfect treasure." -- David McCullough

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (October 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316997668
  • ASIN: B002SB8PDI
  • Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 1.4 x 13.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,382,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Reviewed by Peg Brantley

"X" marks the spot. Do you remember that? You knew you'd found treasure--or at the very least, an amazing secret waiting to be unearthed.

Cartographia is a treasure that is waiting for map and history lovers of all generations to discover. This beautiful work of art will hold your attention for hours as you look at maps drawn on paper, on wood, on stone, on figurines, and in tapestries. World maps, metaphorical maps, a map depicting a square earth and round heaven, maps on warfare, and the Oregon Trail. From ancient maps to one of the human genome, they're all contained within the pages of this book.

The text brings history alive and helps to develop an understanding of the psychology and culture behind the creation of these charted representations.

Vincent Virga, "America's foremost picture editor," is well known in history circles. Collaborating with The Library of Congress (where more than five million maps reside), he has put together an awesome book illuminating the diversity of people who populate our planet. Not only their different geographic landscapes, but also their cultural and social visions of the world and how those ideas have changed over time are represented. From Africa to the Netherlands, China to Ireland, Christianity, Judaism, Islam...you will receive a sense of human attitudes and ideas thoughtfully portrayed in the permanent form of maps.

If you ever get a thrill finding your destination, reading the map key to open the mysteries before you, or locating your house on Google Earth, Cartographia will captivate you.

If you know someone these emotions apply to, don't let them miss this book.

"X" marks the spot. You can find it in Cartographia.

Armchair Interviews says: Map lovers of the world, unite.
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Format: Hardcover
This book can be summed up with "Hey, guess which one of my preconceived political notions THIS map reminds me of!" The maps are pretty, but the accompanying text needs a heavy-duty BS filter.

Here is an example: According to Vincent Virga on page 117, the 2003 CIA map of Africa, with its plain, empty lines, is an expression of the CIA's desire to downplay the complex military, economic and social problems of developing countries. There is no explanation of why France, Germany and Spain are depicted exactly the same way.

Don't get me wrong, colonialism is pretty bad, but that doesn't mean that it permeates every drop of ink on every map. To say, as Virga does on page 109, that colonialism was the sole reason for the Rwandan genocide is to infantalize the actual perpetrators and ignore their status as human beings capable of making their own decisions. The social, political and economic problems left behind by colonialism almost certainly play a role in the way people former-colony developing countries live today, but their history didn't begin when the French and British and Belgians showed up and it didn't end when they left either.

The text of Cartographia leaves one with the impression that it was written by a man looking up at the clouds, imagining that he sees a hand or a duck or a representation of capitalist oppression in what is really just a cloud or, in this case, just a map. The most tragic part of it is that any actual insight that Virga might have provided into the real history and meaning of these maps is buried and discredited.
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Format: Hardcover
Although this is an attractive coffee table book, the lack of a bibliography is troubling. Vincent Virga does not cite the scholars whose ideas he disseminates. Virga admits in the acknowledgments that he didn't "get" maps or mapmaking when he started the project. Yet, he takes credit for the ideas, as if by hanging out with scholars and librarians at the Library of Congress, he was able to come up with a "new approach" to cartography and to understand the map history of every corner of the globe. This would take a lifetime of study. One of his main sources is the multi-volume encyclopedic History of Cartography published by University of Chicago Press, which introduces and explains many of the same maps. Yet he never cites this important and original work nor refers his readers to it. In fact, he does not cite a single book or article.

More ethical and scrupulous nonfiction authors who write for a popular audience use endnotes and a bibliography or an annotated bibliography to give credit to the scholars and authors whose work they popularize. Virga's "cartobibliography" shows only where he got permission to reprint the images. Without a real bibliography, most readers will never find the scholarly works where Virga got his ideas. It is troubling that the Library of Congress participated in this project on
those terms.
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Format: Hardcover
Well, I'm kind of split on this one. This is a great, comprehensive treatment of maps across time, history, and cultures. That said, Virga's socio-political viewpoint leaks out throughout the book. So, it makes a great reference book for the evolution of maps around the world, with lots of great color illustrations (though they make you want to track down a full-sized copy so you can read the details - keep a magnifying glass handy when you read this book). But to read cover to cover as a history, it gets a bit tiring. My general gripe with Virga's writing is that maps made by non-European cultures are wonderful, brilliant, advanced, etc., while maps made by Eurpoean cultures are tools for the spread of colonialism, capitalism, or any other -ism that European culture is typically criticised for. Regardless of one's opinion about this aspect of European history, it's usually not relevant to the topic at hand. An example of the introduction of a socio-political bias that is unnecessary to the purpose, is this line, regarding maps used to define international agreements about nations' economic boundaries into coastal waters - "...opponents in the United States argue that the Law of the Sea Treaty...interferes with private industry's right to profit at the expense of biodiversity". That last phrase ("at the expense of biodiversity) is almost certainly not what opponents argue, is dropped into the text with no basis in information already provided, and has nothing to do with the map or the discussion of the map except that there are opponents to such treaties.

Anyway, it's actually a good book for background on maps from human history and from around the world. It's just best to take the text in small doses and try to set aside the blatant political commentary that slips in here and there.
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