Thursday, May 13, 2010

MapBookFest III: Mapping the World

In which I look at the third of the four books covered in Steven Heller's March 7 New York Times review of books about maps.

Mapping the World by Caroline and Martine Laffon

With a name like Mapping the World; Stories of Geography, this well-made coffee table book sounds like it should be a real slam dunk for a mappy gentleman like myself.

And indeed, it fulfills the basic mission of the coffee table book, offering up many pages of pretty pictures. In this case, the pictures are details from mostly premodern maps.

The book has a different look from most other collections of its type. One reason for this is that it shows not entire maps but picturesque details from maps. This is fine, I suppose, but to me the images seem a bit lackluster thus out of context. The enjoyment of exploring, of finding the quirky details in the context of the map, has already been taken care of for you. These are historic maps, pre-digested.

The image quality is great -- suspiciously great. The images are sharper, less yellowed, less cracked and stained, than documents of their age ought to be. One suspects photoshopping.

Too -- although it seems uncivil to remark on the text or the intellectual underpinnings of a coffee table book -- both are awfully weak in this instance.

I mean, this is a book that starts "Without a doubt, we need poetry to create spaces according to the size of our imagination and to describe the surface of the earth." Oh please.

But, the maps are still pretty if you can put up with the haphazard cropping.


Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Is that the map of Middle Earth? Okay, that was nerdy. I'm a nerd.

Michael5000 said...

Well, yeah, you've put your finger on it, Dr. Noisewater. This book really emphasizes a Middle Earth type of map aesthetic. That makes it fun to look at if you like that kind of map, but it certainly isn't representing anything like the whole range of historical cartography.

Is that a more serious response than you were looking for? I'm a nerd.

Yankee in England said...

Have I ever mentioned I have a fetish for the plastic covers they put over the books to keep them in good shap at the library? They kind of make my heart go boom boom. But then the library in general kind of makes my heart go boom boom.

Unknown said...

I see what you mean about the cropping... it's made worse by the fact that there's no margin/border around the picture page. So it makes the cropping appear extremely abrupt.... more like wrapping paper and less like a map or illustration in a book.

The pictures do look cool though.

Michael5000 said...

Yank: Yep, that sounds like a fetish all right....

Reb: It DOES look like wrapping paper!

Aviatrix said...

You're so smart. I would have looked at that book, because I love artistic old maps, and never quite figured out why it didn't satisfy me. You're quite right: looking for the interesting bits is the fun.