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A History of the World in Twelve Maps

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  445 ratings  ·  90 reviews
A fascinating look at twelve maps—from Ancient Greece to Google Earth—and how they changed our world

In this masterful study, historian and cartography expert Jerry Brotton explores a dozen of history’s most influential maps, from stone tablet to vibrant computer screen. Starting with Ptolemy, father of modern geography,” and ending with satellite cartography, A History of
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published November 14th 2013 by Viking (first published January 1st 2012)
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Wow, I'm actually pretty impressed with myself for finishing this book. It certainly took a while. This isn't a reflection on the book's quality, more so it's style, since this is very much a textbook, massive massive textbook. As oppose to a lighter armchair historian/cartographer volumes like for instance Ken Jennings' lovely book on maps. This book is dense, crammed with information, at times overwhelmingly so. Then again is there really such a thing as too informative. There is so much here ...more
Ben Babcock
Maps are sexy. They are rich founts of information in text and picture form: layers of semantics crowded on rectangles or squares of paper, pixels of possibility on a 3D representation of the world. They are an essential form of communication, but they are often overlooked. Let’s face it: we take maps for granted. This is especially true now that Google and other companies have made it easy to explore the Earth virtually. As these tools become commonplace, the technology fades into the backgroun ...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
A fascinating study of the history of maps, and of the concerns of the map-makers.

For a further review:

Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC.
From the first known world map engraved on a cuneiform clay tablet to Google Earth's interactive three-dimensional image of the world, History of the World in Twelve Maps is a wonderful introduction to the history of cartography. As the title suggests, Jerry Brotton picked twelve maps and placed them in their historical context, dedicating one chapter to each map. At first sight, his choice may seem arbitrary enough - why pick the Hereford map and not the Ebstorf map, or Pietro Vesconte's map, o ...more
This is not so much a history of the world in twelve maps as the stories of twelve maps and their places in history. The author's main premise is that maps are inherently subjective and are influenced by the culture that produces them and its motivations for that production.

The premise is elegantly explored through twelve chapters, each with a single word title describing the main influence on the map's production. Thus we see medieval mappae mundi that set out to describe the world with refere
The author has chosen twelve maps that were each made for a different purpose and which show the state of cartography as it changes across cultures and over time, from ancient Babylon to Google Earth. He shows that the great turning points of our world’s history have been both reflected in and changed by maps. Each chapter focuses on a particular map and who made it and why. It becomes very clear that maps are tools that let the viewer see the world from the perspective of their maker. Brotton ...more
Robert Killheffer
Excellent overall, an interesting way of surveying the history of civilization. Each map requires enough context to be understood and appreciated that Brotton does end up providing something like a coherent history rather than just a series of snapshots - but it won't make much sense to anyone who doesn't have a pretty decent grasp of world history to begin with. It's no introduction, that's for sure, but it's rich with anecdote and keen observation.

But I did find the repeated insistence of Bott
Mar 27, 2015 Emily marked it as to-read-maybe
Great reasons to read this:
This is a very good book. It could potentially have been better titled as "A history of twelve world maps" or something like that, but I guess the current title works. The premise of the book is that a map of the world is a rich statement that speaks about places on the globe but also about the political, cultural, religious, and technological age in which it was developed. That means that world maps (and really all maps) are evidence of the times in which they are created, provided one takes th ...more
Mark Field
Ok ... I seriously geeked out on this book! I do have a fascination for maps and geography, so i did relish this book. I guess this is in many ways the author's history choosing the maps that most interested him and putting them into their respective historical, political and religious context that defined their creation. To me part of this fascination with maps has to do with their sense of discovery, and of trying to make sense of our place and the definition they bring, these too are the defi ...more
Patrick Ross
If you have any interest in books, Britton's work is well worth a read. Even if you don't, skipping through the ventures with his self-contained stories--each chapter is based on a different map/mapmaker across history, wrapping up with the impact of Google Earth--will entertain. (The lay reader can skip at times and likely not miss much, although I read every word.)

As someone who has read dozens of books on antique maps, I've learned that authors keep telling the same stories, really dating bac
Ju-hyun Kim
지도는 그 시대의 가치관이나 사고를 담고 있다.
평소 이 책을 읽기전에는 벽에걸린 지도와 지구본을 당연하게 여겼고, 지도가 시대에 따라 진화하고 발전한다는 생각을 하지 못했었다.
이 책에서 예를 들고 있는 열두 개의 지도 중에서 메르카토르의 지도는 지리상의 발견이후에
막연한 종교적 신념이 아닌 육로, 해로를 통한 왕래가 실제로 필요하게된 시점에 방향과 거리를 감안하여 투영(projection)하는 시도를 거쳐 만들어진 것이다. 원통안에 풍선을 넣고 풍선에 바람이 들어가게되면 내부에서 풍선과 원통이 맞닿는 부분이 적도가 되고 계속 부풀려져서 원통을 가득메우게 되면 원통 내부에 찍힌 그 모습 그대로 평면에 구현할 수 있다. 그렇게 그려진 지도는 상하좌우와 거리가 항해에 적합하게 된다.

그 이전의 지도를 보면 문화권에 따라 위쪽이 북쪽이 아니라 남쪽이 되기도 하고 동쪽이 되기도 하였으며, 그 시대의 정치적, 종교적 필요성에 따라 구현되어 갔다. 한국의 혼일강리지도도 그중 하나로 소개되는데 조선
Aug 03, 2014 Silvia added it
Nonostante la traduzione italiana a volte affannosa, conserva dell'originale la narrazione di grande respiro, ricchissima di informazioni ma sempre di piacevole lettura.
La materia estremamente vasta costringe l'autore ad alcune scelte: si potra' forse obiettare che, eccetto il capitolo dedicato alla cultura coreana e cinese, resta un libro fortemente eurocentrico, ma del resto la cartografia moderna e' nata in Europa, pur con l'apporto di varie tradizioni. Forse ancora insufficiente e' lo spazio
Brotton compresses remarkable insights into brief essays on cartography, history, and philosophy teased from the analysis of his twelve subjects. "Maps offer a proposal about the world, rather than just a reflection of it, and every proposal emerges from a particular culture's prevailing assumptions and preoccupations. The relationship between a map and these assumptions and preoccupations is always reciprocal, but not necessarily fixed or stable...Each one is not just about the world, but also ...more
Mike Edwards
Generally speaking a very interesting book. A ton of information, most of which I was unfamiliar with previously, and presented in a way that nicely built upon itself. Note that despite the title, it's more a history of map-making as opposed to a history of the world through the lens of map making. Still, don't let that turn you off; maps are an integral part of how we interpret the world around us. In that sense, the book is really a story of how that interpretation has evolved over time.

Al Bità
This rather clever work is a must for those interested in Cartography on a global, panoramic scale. In twelve chapters, Brotton presents and discusses twelve “takes” based on “maps” of the time, starting from the earliest attempts at geography, and ending with Google Earth. All except one (the Kangnido World Map at Chapter 4, which deals with the East) all the other maps are Western in perspective — somewhat understandably, since the cartography of the whole globe seemed to be a major concern of ...more
Maps, being representations of reality, reveal their maker's concerns. The first maps struggle to make a religious view and the actual world, coincide. Actually, since the earliest mapmakers' knowledge of the real world was limited, the struggle was brief, and religion triumphed quickly. After religion, politics, economics, and science triumph mostly in that order through the history of the last thousand years. Now we have Google, and the world at our fingertips, and a good many of the old argum ...more
Throughout this book I wanted to revise the title. Early on it seemed to be the "History of Map-Making in 12 Maps" though that seemed to change to "The History of 12 World Maps". I think it more settled into "12 Vignettes of World History Illustrated by Maps".

Any claim that this book represents a proper world history is rather absurd.As we jump from Hellenic Alexandria to Korea, to Medieval Sicily to Renaissance Belgium we're clearly skipping huge swaths of world history. The naming of each chap
Dana Stabenow
I wish some mention had been made of Marcus Agrippa's map, made of stone and in the Roman Forum for all to see from 5 A.D. on, but otherwise an exhaustive (and on occasion exhausting) examination of how map makers created physical representations of the world we live in, many with kings and popes looking over their shoulders, which could and did affect what was shown to be at the center of the world and where the borders went (see page 375, one of many propaganda maps made by Nazi Germany). A bo ...more
Chris Reid
An interesting idea - look at a broadly sketched view of the world both from the vantage points of the maps and map makers who attempted to describe the world and how those views were consistent with and at times an advance to the prevailing views of the world during the periods involved. An intellectual history of cartography, of a sort. Wonderfully written, although it dragged a bit in the last chapter when Brotton was discussing Google Earth, But that may be because I knew more about the unde ...more
Anne Dunham
Why am I still reading this book after more than two and a half months, and I am only two-thirds through it? I have asked myself this question. This is not an easy read. The author shows himself to be very erudite, maybe to a fault, and uses words I have to look up. (And I taught high school English for sixteen years). He is so scholarly about the minutiae of history that I am sure only graduate students could be interested. But yet it is fascinating. It puts me into other times and other great ...more
It took me forever (OK, a couple of weeks) to finish this book because I kept flipping back to previous chapters because I wanted to review something or check something…in short, this is one terrific volume if you're a historian or interested in maps or anything in-between (navigation, wars, trade, colonies, adventure…). I've recommended it to my non-fiction book group and have bought it as a gift (despite its hefty size and price) for an intelligent teenage friend, and have had to hide it from ...more
A revealing and new look at history. The author looks at the evolution of mapmaking, and how it impacts and is impacted by government, economics, religion, technology, etc. The book starts with Ptolemy and the amazing strides he made in the mathematics of map making, ideas that were seen as central to cartography for over a thousand years. As is turns out early maps were not for the purpose of traveling or navigation, but rather to communicate or celebrate ideas about religion, consolidate infor ...more
Long but fascinating look at the history of cartography. The book starts by looking at the Greco-Roman tradition with Ptolemy and moves chronologically until ending with a discussion of contemporary geospatial applications with Google Maps. To me, the book loses steam as it goes on. The best chapters were those in the first half looking at the earliest maps and also those coming out of other traditions (there's a chapter on early Islamic mapping and another on the Medieval Asian mapping traditio ...more
Lisa Cobb Sabatini
I won A History of the World in 12 Maps by Jerry Brotton from Goodreads. From mapmakers manipulating maps to meet the desires of their religious or political leaders to a single mapmaker whose personal belief in a "geopolitical heartland" influencing international relations to multitudes of individuals creating their own purposes, this is a book about the world's influence on mapmakers and mapmakers impact on the world.
I don't believe that this book is written for casual readers like me. Having
Reviewed first published on my blog:

A History of the World in 12 Maps starts with Ptolemy's Geography dated from the second century and ends with the current version of Google Earth. The other maps included in the 12 are:

- 1100s - the maps of Muhammad al-Idrisi created for the king of Sicily
- Circa 1300 - the Mappamundi created in Italy
- 1402 - Kangnido world map from Japan, one of the oldest surviving maps of East Asia
- 1507 - German cartographer Martin
Boris Limpopo
Brotton, Jerry (2012). A History of the World in Twelve Maps. London: Penguin. 2012. ISBN 9781846145704. Pagine 492. 23,04
A History of the World in Twelve Maps

Jerry Brotton è un giornalista dalla BBC e il libro (se capisco bene) è figlio di una serie televisiva, Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession.

Il libro mantiene esattamente quello che promette: i suoi dodici capitoli illustrano ciascuno una tappa nella storia della cartografia e un problema nella rappresentazione dello spazio (e
In lots of ways this is a fascinating book, picking up on the trend to look at a historical subject in the context of a single item or area. It was first started by the book A History of the World in 100 Objects.

There are lots of images of ancient maps, the detail and depth that the book goes into are impressive, and the credentials of the author are impeccable. And yet it doesn’t work for me. There is a mass of detail in here, from some of the very first maps by Ptolemy and other significant o
I'm really not sure what to make of this book - I've just finished it and I feel like I have information overload. On the one hand, it's certainly informative, there's facts abundle. On the other though, Brotton seems to have largely failed to write a history of the world in 12 maps, instead writing something more like 'a history of maps in 12 maps'. I shall explain.

Good points: I adore the 'history of the world in x things' format, ever since I fell in love with the BBC radio 4 series (and acco
This book looks at12 maps, as the title suggests, and links each map to a particular aspect of history. This is an interesting format which works well for maps. I did find the book difficult to get into - the introduction and the first chapter, Science, were quite dense and full of academic language - but later chapters such as Faith and Nation were fascinating.

Brotton himself identifies the problem that historians don't really relate to the science of geography, and that was the biggest issue f
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