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On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does
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On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  2,200 ratings  ·  369 reviews
Maps fascinate us. They chart our understanding of the world and they log our progress, but above all they tell our stories. From the early sketches of philosophers and explorers through to Google Maps and beyond, Simon Garfield examines how maps both relate and realign our history. His compelling narratives range from the quest to create the perfect globe to the challenge ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published October 4th 2012 by Profile Books Ltd (first published 2012)
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Amiable, intermittently fascinating and too comprehensive for its own good – On the Map is all over the map. When it's good, it's very good, at least if you're a chartophile like me, and it offers a rich storehouse of anecdotes on everything and everyone from Ptolemy to Skyrim. But as a single narrative it never really hangs together.

Did I know, before I read this, that the concept of ‘orienting’ oneself comes from the fact that medieval maps had east at the top? If I did, I'd forgotten it. And
Brendon Schrodinger
Who here loves maps and can pore over a map of an unknown territory, real or fictional, for hours imagining the geography and the adventures to be had? Yeah you are one of those people, a lot of us are. In fact I'd hazard to say that a majority of geeks and nerds are. It's part of who we are and a natural expression of our imagination and deep passion for things.

In the last couple of years there has been a few books about maps starting to be published. It seems that we are all rediscovering our
I couldn’t resist the subject. It was worth the read as he covers all of the subject areas that I liked and what I believe would interest most people. However, his presentation was often light and lacking in cohesion in critical areas.

How maps evolved and helped shape our view of the world is the biggest focus. We start with Ptolemy achieving an accurate estimate of the diameter for our spherical world and early influential maps and globes that at least put the Mediterranean world in place. The
Riku Sayuj
A collection of entertaining anecdotes. Not particularly mind expanding, not at all knowledge-expanding, unfortunately. One good sample tidbit is that the popular ‘Hic sunt dracones’ (here there be dragons) is just a misrepresentation, those words never permeated medieval maps after all. Another is the origin of the expression 'orienting oneself'. If the bulk of the anecdotes were similarly obscure or offbeat, the book might have been worth it. The poetical intro by Dava Sobel is the best chapte ...more
This fascinating geographical look at our world is completely enthralling, and which takes you on the most exciting, remarkable journey!

This beautiful book is something to treasure, and which will delight fans of Geography, fine art and those who wish to explore the world and study different continents and countries. This book explores our loves for maps and for looking at the world, and which many readers including myself will find not only fascinating and enchanting but something that is to t
Nick Turner
Confident and fascinating history of the production and uses of maps.


Maps in the Great Library of Alexandria. The subsequent cartographic Dark Age. Why the Americas were named after a man who arrived a year after Columbus. How demographic maps were used to fight disease epidemics.

The final part considers if the cliche that there are sex differences in navigation has any basis in fact. Perhaps the abridger took a shortcut, but I fear that studies of rats and just so stories about presumed (hah!)
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
It probably doesn't surprise you that, in addition to being a book geek and a techno geek, I'm a map geek.

Are you a map geek, too?

If you are, then this book is for you. Every story out there with a map subtext is here. Treasure maps. Maps from Lewis & Clark. Map thieves. The story of GPS.

Read it. Even if you are just a little bit map geek-y. It makes for fascinating reading.
Olga Godim
This is a fascinating book. Garfield obviously loves maps, and his map-infatuation is contagious. He rhapsodizes on the history of maps and their beauty, the people who created maps and the people who used them. Explorers and monks, scientists and artists, sailors and doctors – they all found their places on the pages of this book.
From ancient Greece to Google, maps have been a part of human life, and the author traces the evolution of the world maps through the centuries and around the globe.
Ben Babcock
This is the second map book I’ve read recently, the other being A History of the World in Twelve Maps . These two books are similar enough that I could spend the entire review comparing them, but I’d rather not do that. So let me make the comparison now and then move on: On the Map is neither as detailled nor, for me at least, as satisfying as A History of the World in Twelve Maps (or H12M, as I’ll call it from now on). Simon Garfield covers very similar territory less thoroughly. I’ll give him ...more
The early parts of this book are quite interesting, exploring the history of maps, although it seemed to me that there were some serious gaps in the story. Garfield points out that maps didn't change for hundreds of years -- and then they did -- without really explaining why they changed so suddenly. He also seems to be trying to be funny much of the time, like he's attempting to channel Bill Bryson, which is a shame, because he's nowhere near as funny as Bryson. Bryson makes me laugh. Garfield ...more
Mike Silverman
"On the Map" is a wonderful, rambling tour through the world of maps, focusing on major events in mapmaking history as well as the various social and cultural functions maps have played over time. Like any good journey, the book is filled with lots of side-trips covering topics such as the development of travel guidebooks, the role of the modern GPS, and maps of hidden treasures. Each major chapter is followed by a "mini-chapter" covering bits of map-making trivia. The book is also well-illustra ...more
I'm an old map enthusiast and have been in love with maps and cartography since I was a small boy. By the time I left for college the ceiling and loft in my room were so covered with National Geographic maps that you couldn't see the walls and I would study them and dream of traveling the world. Each month when the National Geographic arrived the first thing I would do is take out the map and spend an hour or two reviewing it. Today antique map shops are at an even higher level than used booksto ...more
This is a very interesting book and covers maps from old to new. It charts the discoveries of America, Australia and Antarctica as they were explored and looks at the power map makers, who changed with the discovering nations. The book then looks at more complex local maps, the advent of Ordnance Survey and A-Z street maps. It explores tube maps, brain maps, computer game mapping and GPS systems. It looks at our obsession with maps and how our lives are ruled by them, whether we know it or not. ...more
Thank you Goodreads and Gotham for the advance readers copy!

Mapping the moral Christian's journey, mapping the Facebook connections around the world, mapping the brain, mapping you as the dot walking across Central Park, mapping Mars, mapping the poles, mapping disease and poverty, mapping for fun, as satire, as a political statement... Garfield sets out from the beginnings of mapping and explores nearly all aspects of this pictorial depiction of surroundings and imagined places, from triangulat
It took me three months, but I've finally finished this compendium on the history of the map. Last year, I read Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings, which on my mind as I embarked on On the Map. While Jennings' book was more of a leisurely ethnography of map enthusiasts, Garfield's is more of a textbook. It certainly wasn't as dry as some of the books I've had to read in the past for school, but it definitely leans toward the academic end of non-fiction. I ...more
Hardly 'mind expanding', a pleasant enough read with lots of interesting, but often told, stories related to maps. Simon Garfield has a habit of veering off course or stopping up blind alleys, arguably not good habits for one supposedly enthusiastic about maps. This book was a bit of a disappointment as I leaned very little, except possible the purely connection between a crime, the postal service and maps. As a lover of maps I found the author's apparent inability to plan or follow a cartograph ...more
This book was everything I had hoped Maphead to be. Where that book focused on the people who love maps, this book focused on the maps themselves, and I enjoyed it all the more for that reason. It also had pictures of the maps actually printed in the book itself! What a thought!

The book goes chronologically from past to present, starting with Greeks and Romans, continuing through the Dark Ages, Renaissance, spends quite a bit of time in the New World before settling on modern life, finishing up
Maps can be a source of wonder to those that like to explore the world, or bring a sense of bewilderment to those that are directionally challenged. Garfield brings his sense of wonder to this subject

In his engaging style, he write about all aspects of maps, from the earliest know maps, a new producer of globes, sat navs, folding maps and how women can read maps; but not those created by men!

I liked the way he has done mini chapters for subjects that do not justify a full chapter, but really can
Timothy Killeen
This book started out really promising and had some really interesting parts peppered throughout. The looks at the earliest maps, as well as the parts about treasure maps and some others were very interesting. However, it is annoyingly Anglo-centric. He talks about parts of England and London as if every reader knows this or that stop on the London Underground and uses countless examples from Britain that just aren't accessible to a non-British reader. If he meant this to be read only by Brits, ...more
Jo * Smut-Dickted *
Edited: I'm finding this really interesting actually. Considering this is way outside my normal genre I was surprised this is so fascinating to me. The paper it is printed on feels a bit different (not sure why but it's not textured the same ..then again I read ebooks 99% of the time..maybe this has happened since I've been out of the DTB business!)

Pre-ordered: This looks fascinating. I've always been intrigued by maps! A historical look at them? Sign me up! Just pre ordered from amazon.
I had high hopes for this book, as I love maps, but it was disappointing. Oddly enough, it lacked focus and was half again as long as it needed to be. The earlier chapters covering the development of maps in the ancient world were far better than those covering the last 100 years of mapping. While "On the Map" offered some good moments like the chapter on Marco Polo there just weren't enough of them to hold my interest.
Edward Sullivan
I've loved poring over maps and globes for as long as I can remember so I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Garfield takes readers on a fascinating, informative, and entertaining tour of cartographic history.
Dec 30, 2012 Jennifer marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Saw review in Smithsonian, Jan. 2013
Linda Robinson
From a footnote about University of Zaragoza's Pilar Utrilla's claim to have found the earliest map: a stone tablet which dates aprx. 14,000 BC, to the Walk-In Atlas created in 2009 (it's bigger than a human,) Garfield covers Concluding with a conjecture that perhaps our 3 lb. brains evolved not from the throw/kill, but from mapping the places to forage and hunt, it's a tour de force of cartography. Fascinating history that includes not only the actual explorations, the rival publishi ...more
Brian Meier
Who isn't drawn in by maps? All the places to see...the jagged coast lines...the rivers that mark an international boundary...the exotic names of faraway places...the challenge of planning an adventure...

I thought this book would extremely compelling. And many of the stories held my interest quite well. John Snow's map that stopped an epidemic is a great illustration of the power of maps. I had taken Beck's tube map of London for granted until I read this book (the world tube map on the inset is
Daniel Ausente
Excelente recorrido por la historia de los mapas, sus anécdotas y curiosidades que va más allá de lo histórico y recorre el papel de los mapas en el cine o los videojuegos o la cartografía del cerebro. Muy ameno, lleno de fascinación y grandes historias. Un extenso resumen visual aquí
As is often true when books delve deep into the past (and farther from reliable source material), Garfield's book starts a bit slowly and gain momentum as we get closer to the more documented, verifiable and tangible present. (That's a terribly long sentence.)

If you enjoy geeky books like Garfield's "Just My Type," you will enjoy this history of maps; especially as map-making and reading has taken such a drastic turn in the era of Mapquest/Google/iPhone. Garfield is not anti-app (nor I am), but
This was a fun tour of the development of maps over the ages. I really enjoyed its light approach while at the same time looking at many angles. It covers everything from the stories of scoflaws to the development of the math. Anyone that reads this is likely a map lover, but it is not just preaching to the choir about what we know--it provided me with new insight about what maps say about us.
I think it could have done without the brain mapping chapter. Instead, I would have included a chapter
I went into this book assuming it would be an easy five-star rating. I love maps. I like people who write scientific histories like this. That said, this book left me unsatisfied. It was good, but not great.

Garfield runs through the history of maps fairly quickly, jumping from one topic to the next. I wanted to learn a bit more about why the Mercator projection became so prevalent, but much of it was glossed over. Garfield spends a lot of time talking about offbeat geographical notions of the Mi
This is a nonfiction book that gives the reader a pretty solid overview of the use of maps historically. Each chapter focuses on a different time, place or person that was influenced by or utilized maps in a new way. I thought this book was great. It’s for people who like history or just good stories, which I guess is why I liked it a lot. If you’re looking to learn about the history of cartography, this isn’t the book for you. This is more of a book full of fun facts about maps. It’s a little s ...more
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Fans of Maps: * 'Spring' 2013 Group Read - discussion 45 30 Apr 01, 2013 06:18PM  
  • A History of the World in Twelve Maps
  • Map Addict: A Tale of Obsession, Fudge & the Ordnance Survey
  • Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
  • Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities
  • Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
  • A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change
  • The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
  • The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime
  • The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America
  • Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline
  • On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History
  • Map Of A Nation
  • Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks
  • Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air
  • The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean
  • The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name
  • The Map As Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography
  • A history of the world in 100 objects
Simon Garfield is a British journalist and non-fiction author. He was educated at the independent University College School in Hampstead, London, and the London School of Economics, where he was the Executive Editor of The Beaver. He also regularly writes for The Observer newspaper.
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