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On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks Hardcover – December 27, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Garfield follows up the best-seller Just My Type (2011) with an engrossing, endlessly fascinating history of maps. Following a foreword by popular-science writer Dava Sobel, he invites readers along on a trip through time and around the world that is enlightening and impossible to put down. The narrative dances from Marco Polo to Vinland, the first atlas (“the world in a book”), Lewis and Clark, the grids of Manhattan, and even the opening sequence of Casablanca. The people and places he has chosen to discuss are a collection of curiosities without peer, and even short “pocket map” visits with J. M. Barrie, the explorers Burke and Wills lost in Australia, and Winston Churchill’s WWII Map Room are diversions not to be missed. The length and breadth of his scholarship are staggering, while the witty tone makes for the most convivial of literary guides. There are dusty archives, library echoes, and abandoned destinations, but also the most contemporary of surveys with brisk considerations of Google Maps and the MRI. Popular history is an overused term these days, but Garfield rewrites the definition by issuing an irresistible invitation to see the world, and delivering on his promise of “the map as story, the map as life.” --Colleen Mondor

Review

"Mr. Garfield uses cartography as a springboard to similar explorations of how we have viewed not only the world around us, but ourselves." —New York Journal of Books

"His droll humor and infectious curiosity will keep readers engrossed as he uncovers surprising ways in which maps chart our imaginations as much as they do the ground underfoot." —Publishers Weekly

"A fine, fun presentation of the brand of cartography that continues to whet our imaginations." —Kirkus Reviews

“Mr. Garfield's book serves an immense need, connecting the latest geocacher with both the ancient art and modern science of the cartographer. Each may benefit from learning how the other approaches maps. Mr. Garfield uniquely provides that bridge.”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“Deep research and descriptive intensity. [Garfield] regales us with tales of such wonders as Britain's medieval Mappa Mundi… On the Map offers a world of revelation.” –USA Today

“There is a great deal that is good and charming and fun about this book.” – Washington Post

“Delightfully meandering.” – NPR.org

“Garfield has a knack for creating high-spirited, erudite and user-friendly books on subjects that may seem crashingly dull to all but a few fanatics. . . . Garfield is a terrific guide. . . . “On the Map” is a treasure: exhilarating, witty, compulsively readable and just plain fun.” –The Seattle Times

“Engaging …full of little conversation pieces” –Janet Maslin, New York Times

“Garfield is a wonderful writer who deploys suspense to excellent effect, making each chapter read like a delightful short story or mini-mystery; what might appear a dusty subject sparkles under his clear-eyed and witty writing.” – Smithsonian Magazine

“engrossing, endlessly fascinating… enlightening and impossible to put down… The length and breadth of his scholarship are staggering, while the witty tone makes for the most convivial of literary guides...an irresistible invitation to see the world, and delivering on his promise of “the map as story, the map as life.” –Booklist Starred Review

“Vastly entertaining.” --Bookpage

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (December 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159240779X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592407798
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Samuel J. Sharp on December 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
On the Map is a very readable, entertaining look at the history of cartography and the use of maps with today's technological advancements. The book's target audience is very wide which means the writing style is casual and a vast array of subjects are discussed, including the maps of Ptolemy and Grand Theft Auto. Garfield almost always reproduces the particular map he is discussing, but these images are grayscale and often cropped, so you will probably want to view the maps online instead.

I read the first eight chapters straight through and the historical development of mapmaking was well covered. After that though, the book became a series of largely unrelated chapters that profiled individual mapmakers, traders, explorers, thieves, etc. The short "Pocket Map" sections emphasize the lack of cohesion in the last 3/4 of the book. The good news is that because the later chapters are standalone stories, a reader can easily skip past any uninteresting chapters without losing any broader understanding of the book or missing important information. This makes a long book much shorter and more enjoyable for most readers.
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I'm a map addict, history and geography jock, and a fan of Simon Garfield's writing. Put those all together and you've got a five star review of Garfield's latest book, "On the Map". British author Garfield has a wide-ranging oeuvre of titles. He's written about everything from WW2 wartime Britain to the music industry to the joys of stamp collecting (while also discussing personal matters) to a book on fonts, and, finally, to this book on maps.

The verb "to map" can be used in many different ways. Of course, the most popular way is "to map" geographical places, but you can also "map" diseases, family histories, economic development, and much, much more. Garfield writes about all these in his new book, but primarily focuses on mapping geographical places. He traces the development of maps from prehistoric ages, paying close attention to the various expeditions devoted to mapping what was then thought to be unknown. Expeditions like Lewis and Clark in the US northwest, the various expeditions to the polar regions, and the expeditions to find the China from Europe by going west. Garfield points out that by 1492, most geographers knew the world was round; the exact size and what lay where was still the missing component.

Simon Garfield is a lively writer, and he addresses both history and geography in his book. He writes about all the places that appeared on early, post-Columbus maps that simply didn't exist. A range of mountains in west Africa and several non-existent islands in the Pacific were the result of mangled streams of information. And the state of California was shown as an island in many early maps of the area.
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A book about maps with graphics so small that you cannot see any detail at all. What's the point? The maps were sized down to fit the page and were literally so small that you could not view names or details even with a magnifying glass and 2.75 reading glasses.
What was the book designer thinking? Better question: was there a designer at all?
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Don't judge this book by its cover. Highly illustrated - but with small, black and white maps! The reading is a bit dry, too. I'll finish it, but the rave reviews that Smithsonian Magazine gave this are overrated. If I'd seen this in a book store (and not on-line) I would not have bought it.
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The endpapers of this book have a map of the world in subway-system format. Subway maps are so familiar to urban dwellers from London to Philadelphia to Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile that one might be surprised to learn they were actually invented by a known person on a known date. That's the kind of tidbit one gets from this entertaining if superficial history of maps and mapmaking, with excursuses into map collecting, map selling, and map stealing. The publisher, however, erred badly in opting for small, often unreadable and poorly-reproduced black-and-white illustrations. Color-plate inserts add appreciably to the cost of a book and are often unnecessary anyway, but cartography is a subject that virtually demands at least a few decent-quality illustrations.They would have improved this book substantially.
The other major shortcoming of this book is its seemingly inexplicable failure to mention weather maps (but see below). They are among the most familiar and ubiquitous maps for most people and they have a fascinating history--it is claimed that the concept originated with Benjamin Franklin, e.g. Fortunately there is a superb book devoted entirely to the subject, albeit at a much higher intellectual level: "Air Apparent" by Mark Monmonier (University of Chicago Press, 1999). Its author anticipates the absence of weather maps from "On The Map" by observing--in his explanation of why he undertook the project-- that for some reason mainstream cartographers seem systematically to ignore the subject. Certainly Simon Garfield did.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This should have been great. It's right up my alley being, like Michael Jordan, a geography major and fellow map addict. The problem with this book is manyfold (all folded map puns intended).

First of all, it's way too Britcentric. As I read the book I was expecting to hear much more about how other cultures dealt with mapping. There is some of that, but the emphasis is still way too focused on the British.

Secondly, the book is packed with a lot of info, but it never really jumped off the page for me. I found the writing very dull. In parts the author steps up his game but overall, super bland compared to similar books in this genre like Maphead (by Ken Jennings), Island Of Lost Maps (by Miles Harvey) and Transit Maps Of The World (by Mark Ovenden). Of course, the latter two are focused on specific map topics not a general overview of the history of maps. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed all three as they made maps come alive. This book did not at all, and I found myself halfway through skipping over subjects I had no interest in.

One HUGE editing error is the poor reproduction of the photos of said maps. The pics all seemed like they were shot in sepia tones and not very sharp. Hard to discern what is going on in many of these old maps referenced.

So although the author is up to date in talking about Google maps or mapping of the human brain, I think either the book needed a better editor to find some sort of clarity throughout or a far better writer with a much better sense of awe and humor.
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