On the Map
A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
Cartography enthusiasts rejoice: the bestselling author of the Just My Type reveals the fascinating relationship between man and map.
Simon Garfield’s Just My Type illuminated the world of fonts and made everyone take a stand on Comic Sans and care about kerning. Now Garfield takes on a subject even dearer to our fanatical human hearts: maps.
Imagine a world without maps. How would we travel? Could we own land? What would men and women argue about in cars? Scientists have even suggested that mapping—not language—is what elevated our prehistoric ancestors from ape-dom. Follow the history of maps from the early explorers’ maps and the awe-inspiring medieval Mappa Mundi to Google Maps and the satellite renderings on our smartphones, Garfield explores the unique way that maps relate and realign our history—and reflect the best and worst of what makes us human.
Featuring a foreword by Dava Sobel and packed with fascinating tales of cartographic intrigue, outsize personalities, and amusing “pocket maps” on an array of subjects from how to fold a map to the strangest maps on the Internet, On the Map is a rich historical tapestry infused with Garfield’s signature narrative flair. Map-obsessives and everyone who loved Just My Type will be lining up to join Garfield on his audacious journey through time and around the globe.
Praise for On the Map
–Daily Mail (UK)
"Garfield has a genius for being sparked to life by esoteric enthusiasm and charming readers with his delight."
"Simon Garfield’s new book is a rollicking sweep through map history, packed with curiosities and written with verve . . . On the Map will inspire you to take a trip to somewhere new, buy an antique globe to chart the rise and fall of empires, or just dig out a tatty orange Ordnance Survey Explorer map and let its filigree of contour lines evoke a long-forgotten walk in the rain . . . a great book."
–Independent on Sunday (UK)
“A pub quizzer’s dream . . . Rather than over-romanticise the experience of map-reading, Garfield allows his varied, expertly researched stories to speak for themselves, and in so doing helps us see that there are fewer things in life more useful, rewarding and beautiful than a map that does what it’s supposed to. Perhaps if Apple had read the book a few months ago, today’s iPhone users would have a much better idea of where they’re going.”
–Daily Telegraph (UK)
Praise for Just My Type:
“This is a smart, funny, accessible book that does for typography what Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves did for punctuation: made it noticeable for people who had no idea they were interested in such things.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"An engaging look at the world of fonts. […] Just My Type urges us to put on the brakes and take in the scenery as far as typography goes. Whether you're a graphic designer or a layperson with no background in this area, reading what Garfield has to say will change the way you perceive the written word forever."
—The Los Angeles Times
“Reading Simon Garfield’s Just My Type can transform your daily life into an endless quest for knowledge of the typefaces in which signs, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. are set.”
—The Washington Post
“Highly entertaining … Garfield takes readers on a rollicking tour of the world of typography, from book jackets to road signs, TV shows to computers.”
“A deliriously clever and entertaining book”
—The Boston Globe
“Informative, delightful — and essential reading for word geeks everywhere.”
—The Seattle Times
“Lively […] intriguing […] a cheeky book about the human side and our reaction to fonts.”
—Seattle Post Intelligencer
“This is a book for typography lovers who just can't get enough of their favorite fonts. In this well-researched book, Garfield takes a look back at the history of typefaces and how they've influenced consumers throughout the years. Using specific examples, Garfield shows just how powerful different fonts can be.”
“For typomaniacs […] who can't rest until they've identified a font, Garfield's engaging history of letter design will be eye candy.”
—The Huffington Post
“Garfield’s romping history (with multitype text) is zestfully informative.”
“Garfield dances across 560 years of typographic history, sprinkled with fascinating anecdotes and vignettes, to infect you with his own inability to walk past a sign without identifying the typeface and some curious factoid about it. Funny and fascinating, irreverent and playful yet endlessly illuminating, the book is an absolute treat for the type-nerd, design history geek, and general lover of intelligent writing with humor.”
“A thoroughly entertaining, well-informed tour of typefaces”
A “lively romp through the history of fonts. Garfield’s evocative prose entices us to see letters instead of just reading them.”
“Whether you’re a hardcore typophile or a type-tyro, there’s something here for you: be it the eye-opening revelations of Eric Gill’s utter and complete perversity, or the creation of the typeface that helped Mr. Obama gain entrance to the White House.”
"Just My Type is an entertaining romp through the world of type design. Mr. Garfield explains the angst and the joy of typography; this is a great book for design geeks to press into the hands of the uninitiated in hopes of conversions, like missionaries with a religious tract."
—Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
“With wit, grace and intelligence, Simon Garfield tells the fascinating stories behind the letters that we encounter every day on our street corners, our bookstore shelves, and our computer screens. As someone who's worked with typography for over three decades, I kept finding lots of surprises. So will anyone who cares about the culture of reading and writing and this most ubiquitous of design forms.”
—Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram Design, New York
"There is even a photograph of a quick brown fox literally jumping over a lazy dog. What a clever, clever book."
“Did I love this book? My daughter's middle name is Bodoni. Enough said.”
"Mapping out the historical intricacies of the ampersand and the short-lived interrobang, the serif and the sans serif, Simon Garfield reveals an invisible world behind the printed word. From Trajan's Column to the ubiquitous Helvetica to the latest typefaces, like Dirtyfax, the lives of the designers and the letters they've created have never been more clearly detailed with so much flair."
—Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, author of Encyclopedia of the Exquisite
How did you get interested in maps?
I’ve been enthralled by maps since I began taking the London Underground to school at the age of 10. I only travelled one stop, but was excited by the possibility of the whole of London laid out in that simple diagrammatic way. I had no idea of the influence of that map throughout the world, but I did start collecting the free pocket maps supplied at stations, and I was hooked from then on. (I’ve got a whole collection of early ones lining my hallway, although sadly most weren’t acquired free but bought at auction for silly money.)
What is the oldest map you encountered during your research?
The oldest map I laid hands on (albeit through glass, as it’s worth millions) was the Mappa Mundi, the map of the world inscribed on calfskin in about 1290. It’s a magnificent thing, a storyboard of life and the Christian worldview designed for visiting pilgrims, displayed in Hereford Cathedral. I have a chapter in the book describing how it was – unbelievably – almost sold to fix a leaky roof.
What do you like best about maps?
The wonder of maps is how much they reveal about our history, and what it’s like to be human. They express both our best and worst attributes – our quest for power and domination, but also our curiosity and desire for exploration – and they can explain more in a single sheet than a whole book. They can also be things of great artistic beauty. But above all maps tell our stories, which is the premise of the book, unraveling great human tales with maps at their core.
What is your most prized map? Why?
The most prized map in my possession is one of those old (1920s) London Underground maps – lovely rich colors and each station written in a swirly calligraphic hand. But the map I prize more than any is in fact an atlas – the Atlas Maior by Joan Blaeu, made in Amsterdam in the 17th century. It’s the most lavish and over-the-top volume you may ever see, with no stretch of water free of wild sea creatures or full-winded galleons. Taschen make a great reproduction; the original may bankrupt you.
Have you ever attempted to make a map?
Only back of the envelope directions, which are guaranteed by me not to get you there. But handmade, personal maps are a growing trend I think, a backlash against so much cold and impersonal digital mapping.
Do buried treasure maps with a big ‘x marks the spot’ really exist? Where did that start?
They do exist – the Library of Congress has a whole special collection of them, although they won’t promise that all of them will make you rich. The big X-map trend comes principally from Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ from the 1880s.
What do you believe is something people don’t realize about maps, but should?
One of the great emerging theories about maps – suggested by Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins and others – is that it was maps (rather than language) that may have first increased the size of our brains and enabled humans to make that leap from other apes. It was the drawing of maps in the dirt on the African plains that enabled teams of hunters to work together.
Why should we leave mapmaking to the professionals?
I think we’re all mapmakers at heart – at every step of our daily lives we’re making maps, most of them mentally, to get to work or even just to a certain part of our homes. And I do like the idea of people constructing personal maps of their movements much as one might keep a diary. And we certainly shouldn’t leave maps to the professionals if the result is Apple Maps.
Before aerial photography, how did mapmakers figure out coastlines and islands?
By sailing. All the early coastal maps, pre-photography and satellite imagery, come from navigation and exploration, with each contour on each painstaking chart being added to the one that came before it to build up a complete picture, correcting errors over the years and centuries. That’s why by the sixteenth century we already had a fairly good picture of the shape of Africa. Then as now, advances in mapmaking were led primarily by trade and ambition.
What is the strangest map you’ve ever seen?
In the book I write quite a lot about many of the great mistakes on maps. Some of these are colossal, like the invention of a mountain range in Africa called the Mountains of Kong that lasted on trusted maps for more than a hundred years. Or the belief that California was an island.
The strangest thing for me is how these map myths persisted over centuries, although perhaps it was a bit like Wikipedia: once it was up there or on a map it was taken as accurate and bound to be repeated. It’s another example of the great power of maps.
How do you think GPS on smart phones have changed the landscape of maps and mapmaking?
Totally and irrevocably. I wrote an article for the BBC website about this, saying that it is now hard for most people aged below 25 to remember a time when we used maps that folded (or at least maps that came folded from a shop, and never folded quite so well again). And it is a sobering thought that our most influential maps are now in the hands of a very new breed of cartographers.
These are not people traditionally charged with representing our landscape with carefully plotted co-ordinates and contours, and with recognizable symbols and important landmarks. The new maps are gridded by technicians and pixel masters, who may be more concerned with screen-loading speeds than the absence on a map of certain parts of, say, Manchester or Chicago.
What do you prefer? GPS Smartphone maps or the old-fashioned ones? What are the pros/cons of each?
I use both, as any modern person should. The maps on my phone are great for when I suddenly need detail about an unfamiliar place, but less good when the battery runs out and I’m hallway up a mountain in Scotland and the fog’s coming in. And GPS can be great in the car if you’re alone on a long journey, but often you can use one and not know how you got from one end of the country to another. GPS can also be invaluable in helping tribes-people in Africa establish claims to their land in the face of deforestation, but GPS may also mean that we be becoming totally reliant on technology and lose our traditional map-reading skills. The lack of this spatial ability means that we may also be shrinking a portion of our brains; it’s that old ‘use it or lose it’ thing. With GPS and smart phones we tend to only look 100 yards ahead.
Can maps ever cause more harm than good?
They are probably a contributory factor in a lot of divorces! And of course no one wants inaccurate maps that give us bad directions. But Columbus thought he was sailing to Japan, so there can be benefits too. And back to the disaster that is Apple maps – a friend of mine woke up the morning after he ‘upgraded’ to the new Apple operating system and found that a fishmonger had, according to his map, moved a mile down the high street into his back garden.
Do you think there will ever be a time when we don’t have/need physical maps?
The time when we don’t have physical maps is fast approaching, especially for the young. But I hope we will always need them, and they’ll always be there for us.
Can you show me how to fold this map?
I wish I could.
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