With free, high-quality satellite data at our fingertips, it's all too easy to not appreciate the imagination, intelligence and artistry at the heart of cartography. Simply titled Map, Exploring the World, the new art book by Phaidon Press celebrates the wonderful intricacies of the map-maker's art of putting concepts into geometric space. The coffee table collection of 300 maps makes room for the silly and strange, the academic and arcane, the whimsical and wonderful, the hand-drawn and the digital and much more.
Phaidon's diverse group of curators (cartographers, collectors, academics and map dealers) explain plenty of historic maps but also include exceptional digital imagery, 3D models and visual art. They include an insightful commentary with each unique and important piece. Instead of moving chronologically, they place maps side-by-side for contrast. A hand-illustrated map of Harlem during its Harlem Renaissance sits next to a meticulous, bird's-eye map of New York. Another spread pairs the Mt. Vesuvius disaster with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A world map circa 1154 CE is juxtaposed with a world map drawn in 1489. In this fun and illuminating format, readers are not only able to learn about the maps themselves but are invited to think conceptually about boundaries, space and the purpose of map-making itself.
Roughly measuring 11.5 x 10 inches and weighing over five pounds, Map presents a hefty amount of material, all in service of an important point. While smartphone data is exceptionally useful, the cartographer's art remains as relevant as ever: putting abstractions into focus, attempting to solve design problems and, as always, making the world clearer and more beautiful.