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A book of maps

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Alan Gordon reviews a book which charts more than 300 map styles

In a recent radio essay, Will Self spoke of maps as somehow paradigmatic of human culture and endeavour. How much the more so for architects, whose core task is to relate buildings to topography.

Map: Exploring the World, newly published by Phaidon, reminds us of the fantastic abundance of styles of representation map-making has given rise to over centuries. It brings together 300 maps spanning 5,000 years and from around the world, ranging from charts for navigation, survey maps, astronomical maps, satellite maps and maps that record poverty and ethnicity.

It includes maps draughted for purposes of political satire and propaganda and maps of fictional territories, such as RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Harry Beck’s famed London Underground map is here, alongside the less familiar: maps visualising the spread of Twitter messages, cosmological maps from the great religions, a map showing the extent of flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.

There are 21 maps by contemporary artists including Grayson Perry and Ai Weiwei and maps by great explorers, including a spidery line supposed to show the coastline of Hispaniola and to be by Columbus’s own hand. All in all a fascinating compendium.




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