The Mapmakers

John Noble Wilford

Introduced by Simon Garfield

The definitive history of the pioneers of cartography, lavishly illustrated with 32 pages of colour plates.

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The Mapmakers

Who hasn’t been fascinated by the names on a map, or stopped a spinning globe with their finger? Humans still long to discover what maps can tell us about ourselves, and the potential they hold to tell us about the rest of the universe.

In a new introduction Simon Garfield, bestselling author of On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does, describes The Mapmakers as a ‘magisterial sweep of cartographic wonders’, and speaks of the joy John Noble Wilford takes in these stories of discovery.

Production Details

The Mapmakers book
  • Quarter-bound in cloth with Modigliani paper sides
  • Set in Haarlemmer with Avenir Book display
  • 512 pages
  • Frontispiece and 32 pages of colour plates
  • Printed endpapers
  • 10" x 6¼"

The Story of the Great Pioneers in Cartography – From Antiquity to the Space Age

In an age in which digital maps are accessible at the touch of a button, it is easy to forget our reliance on centuries of hard-won knowledge. We are, as Simon Garfield writes in his introduction to The Mapmakers, ‘seldom lost, for good and for bad’. But it is to the curiosity of our ancestors that we owe our confident navigation of the world today. From the far-reaching wisdom of Ptolemy to Percival Lowell’s survey of alien waterways on Mars, the cartographer’s stories spring to life in this fascinating chronicle.

In The Mapmakers, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Noble Wilford presents the exploits of those great pioneers and adventurers who for millennia have been expanding our knowledge of who, and where, we are. He charts the progress of cartography from the silk maps of ancient China and the circular ‘T–O’ maps of the medieval world right up to modern maps of the planets and the mountains of the sea floor.

Throughout the ages new technology – compasses, sextants, theodolites, chronometers, aeroplanes, radar and satellites – have transformed the way we measure our surroundings, and explorers have constantly pushed the borders of the known world, filling in the blanks as they go. This edition shows the impact of those cutting-edge technologies that have allowed cartographers to go from the edge of the known world to the deepest reaches of the universe.

With stunning images of maps ancient and modern

The endpapers of this edition display two dazzling images of the Bosphorus: the first from the ‘Peutinger Table’, a Roman road map of the third century, and the second a 2012 satellite image of the same region. The binding shows a detail from Piri Reis’s Book on Navigation, dating from around 1525. Among the illustrations is Bradford Washburn’s map ‘The Heart of the Grand Canyon’, the result of an expedition that inspired the author to write this definitive history – a paean, as Garfield puts it, to ‘the pure wonder of wander’.

From Alice Springs to Zanzibar

In his original Preface, John Noble Wilford writes:

Who has not spread out a map on the table and felt its promise of places to go and things to see and do? As, so that’s Zanzibar, a real place, as real as Dar es Salaam across this stretch of blue or Timbuktu up there in the emptiness of the Sahara …

‘I can see the whole state of Florida just laid out like on a map.’
JOHN H. GLENN

Who does not have etched in the mind images of countries and of the world based on maps? Until recent times, indeed, the world was more familiar to us as a map than in reality. As he approached the end of his flight in Earth orbit in 1962, John H. Glenn remarked: ‘I can see the whole state of Florida just laid out like on a map.’ A number of astronauts, and then all of us who saw the photography from space, marveled at how much the Florida peninsula, the meandering Mississippi, the islands of Britain, the boot of Italy, or any of the geographical shapes resembled the maps everyone had grown up with. We had taken it for granted that maps were faithful reflections of reality; yet we were somehow amazed when reality turned out to be true to the maps.

'The more exotic the better'

In his Introduction, Simon Garfield writes:

The map of the London Underground, gazed at each morning on my one-stop journey to school, was my introduction to adventure. I didn’t yet appreciate the iconic value of Harry Beck’s famous diagram, much less its influence on subway topography from Moscow to Japan, but I certainly appreciated its hold on my imagination. The hallway of my London home is now covered in framed examples in many early incarnations, but I’m still to travel to all its outer reaches; in our digital world, where the satellites have beamed back from every degree, some lands are simply best left unexplored.

The tube map set me on a journey of discovery that will never be complete, thank God. As John Noble Wilford suggests in his Preface, the names get their hooks into you first – he mentions Rumbalara, Bundooma, Rodinga, but who hasn’t flicked through the index of an atlas and searched for the most preposterous? After the names it is the promise of perhaps one day setting out to find these places, the armchair dreams that only the lucky get to realize. For most of us sans crampons and the authentic tropical pith helmet (and with only modern Moleskine notebooks for company, not the Chatwin kind), the maps alone must suffice, and of course the warming tales of how they were realized.

About John Noble Wilford

John Noble Wilford is an award-winning author and journalist. After working at the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, Wilford joined the New York Times in 1965, eventually becoming the newspaper’s senior science correspondent. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his coverage of science and space exploration, and in 1987 as a member of the New York Times reporting team covering the Challenger disaster. In addition to working as a journalist, he is the author of We Reach the Moon, Mars Beckons, The Mysterious History of Columbus, and is co-author or editor of several other books, including Cosmic Dispatches.

About Simon Garfield

Simon Garfield is the author of more than a dozen acclaimed works of non-fiction, including the international bestseller Just My Type – A Book About Fonts, The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and On the Map – Why the World Looks the Way it Does. He has also edited collections of Mass Observation diaries: Our Hidden Lives, Private Battles and We Are At War.

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