On the map

I loved Simon Garfield's history of map making On the map. It sounds as though it would be a rather dry read, but in fact it's anything but. It's a glorious tale of adventure in unknown lands with a few truly loopy characters, and a history of map making that carries through to the present day.

From the joys and perils of sat-nav to the highs and lows of early map-making, which occasionally, and bizarrely, had many of the same problems. Did you know, for instance, that due to an early known error on a map of the New World, many mariners gamely tried to sail around California, convinced it was an island "because the map said so".

Lost in California? You'll have problems finding the eastern passage though...
There's much that intrigues in this refreshing guide to how maps made the world. And there's much that surprised here - both the Arctic and Antarctic circles were mapped at least roughly much earlier than you might expect, though the South Pole was only mapped properly relatively recently.

Maps could make empires, as the enormous British project to map India proved, and map makers continue to be enormously influential today even when their lives are unfamiliar to us - the Cassini mission to map Saturn was named after the Italian-French astronomer, Cassini, who was also the first of his family to engage in a massive project to map France.

Garfield combines history, travel and humour in an irresistible mix. A compelling, absorbing read.


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