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A History of the World in 12 Maps    by Jerry Brotton order for
History of the World in 12 Maps
by Jerry Brotton
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Whether you still use a well worn and creased old paper road map or reach for your digital GPS system to guide you on a road trip, you will probably still rely on a map to get you from one location to another.

The importance of maps dates back centuries, although technology has revolutionized how these guides are now created. In A History of the World in 12 Maps (Viking. $40), Jerry Brotton looks at a dozen maps from Ancient Greece to Google Earth and how they changed the world.

An expert on the history of maps and Renaissance cartography, Brotton is a professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London. In this well illustrated volume the author examines the creative processes the various cartographers employed and the problems they had to overcome in creating these maps.

'Each map either shaped people's attitudes to the worlds in which they lived, or crystallized a particular world view at specific moments in global history often both,' writes Brotton.

'These twelve maps were created at particularly crucial moments, when their makers took bold decisions about how and what to represent. In the process they created new visions of the world that aimed not only to explain to their audiences that this was what the world looked like, but to convince them of why it existed, and to show them their own place within it.'

Beginning with Ptolemy's Geography from AD 150, the reader will find chapters devoted to a range of other maps that date from AD 1154, 1300, and 1402. There are three maps from the 16th century, one from the 18th century and two from the 1900s. A discussion of Google Earth ends this investigation of maps and what they reveal about mankind.

More than just a way to guide a person from Point A to Point B or show where various countries are located, Professor Brotton believes that maps provide a revealing expression of the people who created them. Maps have been used to promote imperial, religious, and economic agendas, shifting borders, and iconography.

Down through history, maps have often changed people's attitudes, crystallized a particular world view and even provided a threat to an established political or social order.

In the book's final chapter Brotton addresses 'the impossibility of creating a commonly accepted, global projection of the earth'. Despite Google Earth's claim to having done so, the author questions whether or not this is really possible.

The professor states that mapmakers will continue to 'pursue a particular agenda, insist on a certain geographical interpretation at the expense of possible alternatives, and ultimately define the earth in one way rather than another'.

Anyone interested in cartography will want to obtain a copy of this thought provoking and well-researched book. Nearly fifty pages of color illustrations provide a visual feast as well as make A History of the World in 12 Maps a stimulating and informative read.

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