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Charting a Course for Beautiful Books of Maps

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Maps have held a place in our collective cultural imagination for centuries, for their ability to represent and order the world around us. They are a meeting ground of art and design with science and navigation. Throughout history, maps have always told a story. They hold a place, a history, and a perspective, unique to the moment they were created. With the increasing popularity of Google Maps and satellite navigation, you might imagine that physical maps are falling from relevance, yet there is still plenty to explore between the folds of a map.There’s no replacing the beauty of map-making, whether it is in the mesmerizing symmetry of city blocks or in the fantastical beasts looming at the edge of medieval worlds.

Not limited to the copy of the World Atlas pulled out only for school projects, there are plenty of fascinating books of maps, from studies of historical navigation charts to compendiums of modern experiments in visualizing space. These books make stunning gifts for every kind of cartophile whether outdoors enthusiast or armchair explorer. We’ve selected some of the most beautiful these books of maps to set you on your explorations:

Great City Maps

A stalwart of gift book publishing, DK has produced a fascinating look into the development of cities and maps throughout culture and history. It charts the development of urban spaces as they grew in size and complexity, through the lens of the maps which evolved likewise beside the expanding cities.

The book is split into Ancient Cities, Medieval Trading Centres, Imperial Cities, Colonial Cities, Ideal Cities, and Megacities, and looks at urban spaces around the globe. The maps are just as diverse as the cities; from transit maps to artistic portraits, each map captures a moment in the city’s history in a unique and fascinating way.

Along with each map, the book presents some historical context, with cultural and social information about the city’s development along with profiles of cartographers and artists. It is an enchanting look at some of Earth’s most complex geographies, and the ways which maps developed to represent them.

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The Phantom Atlas

While most maps show you the world as it is, The Phantom Atlas is a collection of maps that show the world as it never was. Edward Brooke-Hitching has collected a host of historical maps which charted fictitious societies, erroneous geography, and fantastical creatures. It's a stunning book, the gorgeous antique maps sit alongside commentary on how these misguided maps came to exist. It illustrates the changing perceptions of the world, from the medieval monsters which were thought to fester in the oceans, to the inclusion of an entirely imagined mountain range in the nineteenth century maps of Africa.

The stories are captivating and the maps enthralling, The Phantom Atlas wonderfully presents the meeting point of map-making and mythology in a book which is sure to delight anyone with an interest in cartography and history.

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The Un-Discovered Islands

Another look at the anomalies in map-making, Malachy Tallack mixes travel writing with cartography to produce his fascinating book The Un-Discovered Islands. Tallack chronicles the stories of 24 islands which have fallen off maps. Some were myths or fictions, like the much-famed Atlantis, but others may have been real but have since disappeared, lost to the tides of time.

Tallack’s prose is clear and strong, as he conjures up the landscapes of these lost isles for his readers. His deft use of imagery is perfectly complimented by Katie Scott’s beautiful and colourful illustrations. This is the most text-heavy of our recommendations, but Tallack’s goal in this book is to resurrect not only these lost islands, but a lost sense of wonder for navigation and geography. Few books will inspire readers to reach for an atlas and to imagine what might be left to explore quite as well as this. 

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A map of the world /anglais

A Map of the World is a gorgeous compendium of artistic takes on cartography. Designers, illustrators and artists were brought together to create over 500 maps. Their aim was to capture the character, mood, and stories of a location. There is a huge range of styles, from intricate and precise to abstract and idyllic. Antoniou highlights the appeal of these, and all maps in his preface:

Few graphic representation devices have been such a fountainhead of wonderment, controversy, and utility as maps have...Whatever their purpose or subject matter, even the most rudimentary of maps have an inherent beauty, an attraction in their way of ordering things.

Antoniou’s book certainly displays the beauty and attraction of maps, the contributors have captured and conveyed their locations in an experiment of data visualization that goes beyond cartographic reference and becomes an act geographical storytelling.

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Mapping Manhattan

Where our previous recommendation showed how you could tell the story of a place through maps, this next recommendation, Mapping Manhattan, shows how you can tell your own story with maps.

The author, Becky Cooper, reached out to New Yorkers from every walk of life contribute to this book, from celebrities to strangers on the street. They were each given a blank map of Manhattan and asked to fill in the map in whatever way was meaningful to them. The result is a series of unique and intimate maps that chart the experience and stories of those who inhabit that space. They are strikingly varied and creative, some are sarcastic and others heart-breaking, some have intricate illustrations, while others have stories hurriedly scribbled on top. Together they highlight the subjectivity of experiencing and navigating space.

No city can be captured in a single map, or indeed a single story and Cooper’s book is a beautiful celebration of this. 

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Archaeologist, explorer, historian, general meddler in all past things. Currently enduring the effects of no less than 23 ancient curses. Always in need of trusted assistants, however there ... Show More

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