There have been a number of good map related books out recently. I would have reviewed these books when they first arrived but I like to take my time and enjoy a good read. Sometimes that time turns into months.
First up is The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester.
Originally this was imagined as a book about the 1507 Martin Waldseemüller map that is commonly considered to be the first map to use the name "America."
However, the scope of the book expands into a broad geopolitical history of European exploration and colonialism that is the context in which this map appeared. This is a fascinating look at the religious and commercial motivations behind the urge to explore the world and at the revival of science, humanism and the knowledge of the ancient Greeks. Unfortunately the book is a bit Eurocentric in that it glosses over the contributions and discoveries of Chinese, Arab and even northern European scientists and explorers. However, the author does at least acknowledge that fact in his preface.
This "macrohistory" details travels of Marco Polo and others to the far east, the search for the mythical Prester John, attempts to determine the world's circumference, the uncertain dimensions of Africa, the Papal Schism, and the effects of the Spanish Inquisition on regional commerce. It also covers the rivalries among Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, other explorers and the countries that they sailed for. All these threads are tied up into a cohesive narrative.
Finally, as a fellow map blogger, I should mention Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities by Frank Jacobs.
1 year ago