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Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names
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Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names

3.09 of 5 stars 3.09  ·  rating details  ·  75 ratings  ·  16 reviews
This amusing, fact-filled book recharts geography--from Ptolemy to the break-up of Yugoslavia--through the eyes of intrepid seafarers, arrogant imperialists, feuding neighbors, gullible map-makers, and bumbling tourists. 50 maps.
Paperback, 200 pages
Published November 1st 1999 by Kodansha (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-29 of 153)
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Ralph McEwen
I found the book a little dry. For a small book it covered a lot and the topic is dry. I am left feeling that all maps should come with a disclaimer that all sizes are approximated and names should be verified before traveling. There are some humorous stories and a lot of interesting facts (at least I hope they are facts). I was some what bothered finding out that even modern maps are subject to political pressure and suffer for it. It is said that history is written by the winners and I guess t ...more
Bill Sleeman

Off the Map: the curious histories of place-names by Derek Nelson is a well-researched but not especially engaging overview of the political, social, and cultural effect of cartographic naming conventions. As other reviewers have pointed out, and I agree, Nelson has not written a history as such but more of a general reference guide that brings together facts and events without much connective tissue in the text. Too bad as I think he has a good idea here and an editor that insisted on a close

...more
Massanutten Regional Library
Katie, Main reference volunteer, May 2015, 2 stars:

This is a fun book and has lots of interesting info--but it's not particularly well organized. I enjoyed reading it but didn't like that the author doesn't site specific sources for individual facts (after complaining that other authors take too many liberties with the histories of place-names).
Eliza
This book is extremely unorganized. The author skips to different geographic places every paragraph, and there is no rhyme or reason for the sudden change. The book does not flow well, and does not seem to have a point, just that many place names have odd origins that don't make sense unless the roots are traced back, and that maps are extremely dependent on who it was that made them.

I would not recommend this book. Although parts were moderately interesting, the author disputes himself in place
...more
Maureen
There was a lot of information in this book, so much so that I'm not sure I even held onto it. Some paragraphs contain information on unrelated things. While it's fun to know where names came from, I'm afraid there are just too many little tidbits of information here so that you don't really get a good grasp on the larger points he makes about how place names are created, reproduced, and so forth. I appreciate Nelson's efforts, but a lot more editing and more focused discussions, several case st ...more
Quin
I decided to read this book as a break from novels (for the evening, at least), and it did the trick. It wasn't fantastic, but it was enjoyable overall. My biggest complaint would be that it was at times over-simplified. Some of the explanations of word origin and lingual differences, in particular, could have used more explanation and less "dumbing down". It was a really fast read, and I would think it would make a good book for an airplane or other several hour trip...
It contains lots of maps
...more
Dave
I liked this book. It wasn't heavy reading. It was fast and interesting. I'm sure that Derek could have made this into a really scholarly work, but then who would want to read it? As it was, I found it fast enough of a read that I didn't loose interest.

I would recommend this to anyone who has ever stared at a map and wondered about how places must have gotten their names.

My one negative comment would be as to the quality reproduction of the maps that Derek included in the body of his text. If th
...more
Kg
This is a fun book and has lots of interesting info--but it's not particularly well organized. I enjoyed reading it but didn't like that the author doesn't site specific sources for individual facts (after complaining that other authors take too many liberties with the histories of place-names).
Erica
summary: places have names. some places have or have had more than one name. sometimes the history of those names is complicated. unfortunately, he went on. and on. and on, in a very disjointed, superficial listing of those names and how they were derived. i don't think there were 2 consecutive paragraphs in the book that stuck with any one topic. oh well. cool old maps though.
Jim
This book is a fun, quick read. It gives interesting and sometimes oddball explanations as to how hundreds of place names around the world came to be, but it could benefit by some beter organizational scheme either geographical or chronological. The author touches down at semingly randon points on the globe tells us a story or two and then moves on.
Watson
This would be a neat introductory text to map history, but it's kind of a rambling collection of cartographic and historical curiosities without much structure. There are some interesting anecdotes about place names and speculative maps, but nothing that really sets this book apart.
Kristen
Dec 17, 2012 Kristen rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: map lovers
Lots of fun little tidbits, but not much organization. Though tackling place names of the entire world in one book of this size would be pretty impossible without a lot of jumping around anyway! It was interesting if you are a person who loves maps
Taylor
Great concept, lackluster delivery. As someone who loves maps, the topic pulled me in. As someone who loves good writing, I wasn't impressed.
Paul
Meh. One good thing about this book it is much shorter than Moby Dick.
Sara
enjoyable,fairly light read about geographic names.
Mary
Fascinating!
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