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The Road to There: Mapmakers and Their Stories    by Val Ross order for
Road to There
by Val Ross
Order:  USA  Can
Tundra, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The author introduces mapmaking as a journey in imagination, creating a sense 'that there are routes from Here to There', and then proceeds to tell us stories of mapmakers through time.

There's the forger who faked the Vinland Map (though Vikings did briefly settle in Newfoundland); the 1145 creation of a map of the known world by the Christian king of Sicily and his friend, the aristocratic Muslim scholar al-Idrisi; mapmaking by China's Treasure Fleet in the early 1400s - they may have even voyaged to Australia. Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal was a mapmaker - and a slaver - who sent ships down the coast of Africa and inspired a tradition of Portuguese exploratory expeditions. Mapmaking giant Gerard Mercator suffered religious persecution in 1544 Europe. Generations of Cassinis made maps in France from the time of Louis XIV until the French Revolution.

Everyone's heard of Captain Cook - who mapped the Pacific, 'the last unknown third of the world', and died in Hawaii - and of Lewis and Clark's great expedition to the American West. But what about Alexander von Humboldt, an aristocratic traveller/scientist who explored South America and pioneered modern weather maps? Or Pundit Nain Singh, a British spy who surveyed as far as Lhasa, Tibet? Val Ross tells all these mapmakers' stories, moving from the earth's surface to the depths of the ocean, into the skies, and on to the solar system and the mapping of the universe, where she tells us 'there are billions of stories to tell.'

Sidebars explain topics like measuring altitude, the quilt maps used by runaway slaves, and (my favorite) a scientific application of whale vomit. The errors on early maps (e.g. one that says England is 'in the grip of perpetual winter') are as interesting as the stories of how they came about. I recommend The Road to There to anyone interested in the history of exploration, the power of maps, and the thrills of mapmaking.

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