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'Cartographia' a Map of Human Imagination

Cartographia Cover

The subtitle of Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations makes it sound like a conventional history of exploration and trade routes. But having pored over the Library of Congress' 4.8 million maps and 60,000 atlases — the largest cartographic collection in the world — picture editor Vincent Virga discovers maps to be more subversive, more individual, more revealing than mere navigational aids. Cartographia surprises in many ways: It's an oversized history, a fascinating map of the human imagination, of the ways we've learned to orient ourselves.

Virga points out that when Mohammed Bello, sultan of the western Sahara, gave British explorer Hugh Clapperton a misleading chart of the Niger River, the gift was a typical example of "Map as Obfuscation." Cartographia also offers us Map as Unwelcome Truth, Map as Spirit of the Age, Map as Respect for Authority, and dozens of other chart-making archetypes. In short, over the centuries, maps have been microcosmic representations of more than just land or water; sometimes, it has been political power or climate or spiritual cosmology. The more than 200 illustrations in this lavish, wide-ranging volume may not guide anyone to the right freeway exit, but they'll show readers William Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County, the layout of the human genome and the five entry points of the soul.

Book critic Jerome Weeks blogs at Book/Daddy

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Jerome Weeks