Synopses & Reviews
A fascinating look at twelve maps from Ancient Greece to Google Earth and how they changed our world.
In this masterful study, historian and cartography expert Jerry Brotton explores a dozen of history's most influential maps, from stone tablet to vibrant computer screen. Starting with Ptolemy, father of modern geography,” and ending with satellite cartography, A History of the World in 12 Maps brings maps from classical Greece, Renaissance Europe, and the Islamic and Buddhist worlds to life and reveals their influence on how we literally look at our present world.
As Brotton shows, the long road to our present geographical reality was rife with controversy, manipulation, and special interests trumping science. Through the centuries maps have been wielded to promote any number of imperial, religious, and economic agendas, and have represented the idiosyncratic and uneasy fusion of science and subjectivity. Brotton also conjures the worlds that produced these notable works of cartography and tells the stories of those who created, used, and misused them for their own ends.
In an era when Google Maps is regarded as a standard convenience this history of 12 epoch defining maps—including Google’s—is a revelation. Renaissance scholar Brotton examines a cross cultural sampling of historic world maps exploring them as representations of both the Earth and of the philosophical mores of the cultures that produced them. The maps range in function from the “practical maintenance of empire” to the spiritual concerns of uniting “the earth and the heavens in a harmonious universal whole.” Each simultaneously represents a geographical survey an aesthetic achievement technological progress theological instruction and political demarcation. These multiple functions are mirrored in the structure of the book which reflects political philosophical and cultural development. The maps are about humanity’s changing relationship with itself others the Earth and the heavens and this broad scope makes for rich reading. Ultimately the unifying function of each map is to “rise above the earth” and see with a “divine perspective” and Brotton offers an excellent guide to understanding these influential attempts at psychogeographical transcendence. Of course each historic map despite the cartographer’s efforts contained inaccuracies necessitating revisions—a humbling lesson for our current information dense age. Maps. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"A stupendous achievement . . . Unrivalled world history for our day . . . it is unbelievable in its facts and almost incontestable in its judgements."
-A. J. P. Taylor, The Observer (London)
About the Author
Jerry Brotton is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London and a leading expert in the history of maps and Renaissance cartography. His most recent book, The Sale of the Late Kings Goods: Charles I and His Art Collection (2006), was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize as well as the Hessell-Tiltman History Prize. He lives in London.