Thursday, April 8, 2010

MapBookFest I: Strange Maps

A few weeks back, occasional L&TM5K commenter Karmasartre sent me an email consisting entirely of the following link:
This turns out to be a March 7 New York Times review of books about maps. "There’s nothing like sitting by the fire with a good book, except maybe sitting by the fire with a good map — or better yet, a good book about maps," writes the review, Steven Heller. "I’ve noticed an upsurge in cartographic interest these days, especially for maps’ value as conceptual artwork." Well, I've noticed the same phenomenon, attributing it partly to a more general upsurge in interest in good representational graphics (Thanks, Mr. Tufte!) and partly to a more general upsurge in expensive, lucrative-to-publish, image-saturated books. I've been pleased.

Karma didn't say as much, but I read his email as a call to feature some of the books covered in the review in our ongoing Coffee Table Book Party. And so we shall, Karma! Here's the first of four featured books from Mr. Heller's NYT review.

Strange Maps by Frank Jacobs

Frank Jacobs' blog Strange Maps, unlike the L&TM5K, is fortunate enough not only to have a single focus but even a title that explains what that focus is. Strange Maps is about, you know, maps! That are strange! He covers contemporary cartography and map based art, but is also interested in the vintage maps of many periods.

Although, truth be told, Jacobs leaves the door open on what makes a map "strange." Sometimes it's that the map shows familiar data in an unconventional way.

Sometimes it's that the data itself is unusual or unorthodox.

Sometimes the whole idea of the map is a little weird.

This lack of strict definition makes Strange Maps into a bit of a hodgepodge of eccentric cartography -- which is pretty much awesome.

The Strange Maps book is, as you'd expect, a collection of posts from the Strange Maps blog. This points up its only real weakness: it is great to browse through these maps in lovely hard-copy renderings, but if you've been a regular Strange Maps subscriber for a few years, you've already read this entire book except for its two-page introduction.

But it can be found for $13 used and $16 new online, and if you've got that kind of wherewithal this is not a book you are going to regret having on your coffee table.

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