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On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  2,883 Ratings  ·  439 Reviews
Cartography enthusiasts rejoice: the bestselling author of the Just My Type reveals the fascinating relationship between man and map.

Simon Garfield’s Just My Type illuminated the world of fonts and made everyone take a stand on Comic Sans and care about kerning. Now Garfield takes on a subject even dearer to our fanatical human hearts: maps.

Imagine a world without maps. Ho
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published December 27th 2012 by Gotham (first published 2012)
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Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, maps, geography

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
Jun 06, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: r-r-rs
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
Dec 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: imperialism
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!)
Olga Godim
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
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
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC radio listeners

Listen here:

Simon Garfield starts his journey through the story of maps in the Great Library of Alexandria where, for the first time, scholars began to plot the wider world.

Ptolemy's atlas of AD 150 was to provide a template of the world for more than a thousand years and it was a version of this that Columbus took with him when he set sail for Japan in 1492.

Producer: Clive Brill A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.

#1 - All Facebook, Google and hu
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, maps
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
Mike Silverman
Nov 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
"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
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of my vivid childhood memories involves looking at a globe (read: "spinning a globe recklessly until it inevitably fell over") and being mystified by the fact that the USSR shown on the globe was no longer in existence, as my parents had told me. How could a country go away? I mean, it's still right there on the globe! Luckily, all it would take to ease my childhood mind against these troubling geopolitical questions was one more good, hard spin of the globe. Worst case, maybe a piece of can ...more
May 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2013
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
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: geography
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.
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.
Jun 15, 2016 rated it liked it
I love maps. I really do. Old maps, fictional maps, street maps, historical atlases, abstract maps, I'll pour over any of them for hours. This book would appear to be written for the sort of people who really, really, really love maps. So, if you're one of those people, knock yourself out.
Edward Sullivan
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 marked it as to-read
Saw review in Smithsonian, Jan. 2013
Jul 28, 2016 rated it liked it
On the Map
Author: Simon Garfield
Publisher: Gotham Books
Published In: New York City, NY
Date: 2013
Pgs: 464


In a world without would travel work? How would land ownership work? The history of maps from early explorers through medieval times to satelittle maps on your smartphone. Maps align the way we think about our present and our past. Cartographic intrigue. Pocket maps. Strange maps. And how to fold maps. Maps. Maps. Maps. Maps. No...Monty Python did
Brian Meier
Mar 24, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Linda Robinson
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Harry Doble
Nov 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, cartography
On the Map offers a rough guide to the history of mapping, from the ancient cartography of Erastophenes and Ptolemy to the modern engineering marvels of GPS and Google Maps. It is divided into several short chapters, each which deal with a seperate subject. These include Vinland, John Snow's triangulation of cholera, and real and fictional treasure maps. Some of the chapters are dull. The early Mappa Mundi chapter in particular deals some rather boring people trying to sell an old map. Others ar ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a nice little piece of literary nonfiction on the history of maps. the most interesting theory is that because of cell phones and satellite images, the center of the known world now is always "me." This book takes you through maps from those in the library of Alexandria to the present day. In the age of discovery more and more lands were added to maps and the depictions became more and more accurate. Whether sailing on the high seas or exploring with Lewis and Clark, the maps available a ...more
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Fans of Maps: * 'Spring' 2013 Group Read - discussion 45 32 Apr 01, 2013 06:18PM  
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  • Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities
  • The Map As Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography
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  • The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
  • The Story of English in 100 Words
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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.
More about Simon Garfield...