GeoCarta Has Moved

Feb 28, 2006

The Map Book By Peter Barber

David Walton recently reviewed The Map Book by Peter Barber for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
A passion for maps is the core and inspiration of Peter Barber's wondrous and endlessly ponderable "The Map Book." This hefty anthology, arranged chronologically from 1500 B.C. to 2005, and compiled by the Head of Map Collections at the British Library, is a world to get lost in.

Many worlds to get lost in. For as Barber says, "for map enthusiasts the fascination of maps ironically stems from their necessary lack of truth." He dismisses lightly "the unwritten assumptions that the only aspect of map history worth studying was its mathematical precision."

Maps are projections, not just of a physical landscape but of our beliefs and mental perspective as well. Consider for example any highway map, which ignores features of terrain and focuses exclusively on roadways, junctures, and distances.

Barber's chronological format is easy to browse, fascinating when read in sequence. Each righthand page is a full-color reproduction, usually one portion of a larger map. The left page explains the map's history and significance, headed by a two-line synopsis, and down the left margin its year and a smaller color illustration, usually the full view of the map on a mosaic floor, a shield cover, a tapestry presented to Elizabeth I. Truly amazing are the many forms on which maps have been preserved over the centuries.