As the daughter of a geography professor, I grew up in a house filled with maps, which papered the walls of our living room and filled my father’s cramped study. In a digital age where maps have become all but obsolete, I still love them. I comb flea markets and secondhand bookstores looking for old maps of the places I’ve lived. I always have a road atlas in my car, which comes in handy in places with no cell service, like the remote hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I collect atlases of all kinds and spend far too much money on them.
If you’re going to buy just one atlas this fall, make it the 11th edition of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ATLAS OF THE WORLD (National Geographic, $215), a 7.8-pound behemoth that’s a foot and a half long and a foot wide. Its mammoth size allows you to appreciate the details in its dozens of maps — satellite maps, cultural maps and physical maps, all of them striking. The best one, “Life on a Warming Planet,” lays out where temperatures are rising (and by how much), where permafrost is melting, what nations emit the most carbon dioxide and which large cities are at high risk.
Charles Booth was a British social scientist and reformer who, from 1886 to 1903, undertook a massive investigation called “Life and Labour of the People in London.” His team scoured every corner of the city, collecting data on living and working conditions, income, religious influences and leisure activities. The resulting hand-colored maps are reproduced in CHARLES BOOTH’S LONDON POVERTY MAPS (Thames & Hudson, $100) on thick, creamy paper and augmented with both modern commentary and excerpts from Booth’s notebooks.
Betsy Mason and Greg Miller’s ALL OVER THE MAP: A Cartographic Odyssey (National Geographic, $50) is an absorbing and quirky history of mapmaking. Divided into categories (waterways, cities, landscapes, economies and so on), it tells the stories behind scores of maps, ranging from the odd (one from 1858 showing the kinds of meat sent to Paris’s butchers from different parts of France) to the imagined (a 2015 map of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”). There’s a wonderful early example of medical cartography — an 1856 map, made by a doctor, which documents three outbreaks of cholera in England — and a World War I-era German map pinpointing submarine attacks.
“Maps don’t just show people the way. In the early days of flight, they showed that the impossible was now achievable,” says Maxwell J. Roberts, who wrote AIRLINE MAPS: A Century of Art and Design (Penguin, paper, $30) with Mark Ovenden. The first commercial route maps — vividly colored and often geographically improbable — bear little resemblance to the sterile ones found in today’s in-flight magazines.
The three previously published atlases collected in INFINITE CITIES (University of California Press, $75) — New York, San Francisco and New Orleans — use unconventional maps to bring social history to life. Rebecca Solnit, who wrote the books with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and Rebecca Snedeker, wanted to think about maps and what they represented in a different way. “Often we get a conventional map that will show highways or shopping, but you can also map butterfly species or romantic histories or violence or weather or pomegranate trees or Asian restaurants,” she said in a 2011 interview. “It’s really inexhaustible. You never completely know a place. It continues to change, and you can continue to explore it.”
Part history, part geography, AN ATLAS OF GEOGRAPHICAL WONDERS: From Mountaintops to Riverbeds (Princeton Architectural Press, $50) illuminates the world of famous 19th-century expeditions. The authors — Jean-Christophe Bailly, Jean-Marc Besse, Philippe Grand and Gilles Palsky — have amassed drawings, maps, graphs and tableaus that trace the adventures of various explorers and show how the science of measuring altitude developed.
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