Archive for the ‘Map Books’ Category


Denis Wood & John Fels’ new book The Natures of Maps is available now from the University of Chicago Press and many other sources. The lowest price I can find at this time is $29 (at Buy.com). Denis is, of course, co-author of the Making Maps book.

The book is big – almost a foot square – with color maps on almost every page.  The book had a harrowing path to publication.  Originally under contract to ESRI Press, the book was in final galleys (ready to print but for a handful of edits) when ESRI Press decided to cancel it and a dozen other books in process.  Given the expense of producing the book (and the cost of reproduction rights to the illustrations) this seemed to be a peculiar business decision.  The University of Chicago Press subsequently acquired the book, more or less ready to print.

Here’s an “editorial” blurb I wrote for the book:

If Wood & Fels’ The Power of Maps showed that maps were powerful, The Natures of Maps reveals the source of that power. The Natures of Maps is about a simple but profound idea: maps are propositions, maps are arguments. The book confronts nature on maps – nature as threatened, nature as threatening, nature as grandeur, cornucopia, possessable, as a system, mystery, and park – with intense slow readings of exemplary historical and contemporary maps, which populate this full color, beautifully illustrated and designed book.

The careful interrogation of maps reveals that far from passively reflecting nature, they instead make sustained, carefully crafted, and precise arguments about nature. The Natures of Maps shows how maps establish nature, and how we establish maps. The power of maps extends not only from their ability to express the complexities of the natural world in an efficient and engaging manner, but in their ability to mask that they are an argument, a proposal about what they show.

The implications of the arguments in The Natures of Maps are significant, empowering map users and makers. The Natures of Maps shows that neither map users or map creators are passive, merely accepting or purveying reality; they are, instead, actively engaged in a vital process of shaping our understanding of nature in all its complexity. Map users have a critical responsibility, the power to accept, reject, or counter-argue with the maps they encounter. Map creators have creative responsibility, the power to build and finesse their arguments, marshalling data and design for broader goals of understanding and communicating truths about the world. Rethinking how maps work in terms of propositional logic, with its 2000-year history and vast methodological and theoretical foundation, promises to be one of the most profound advances in cartographic theory in decades, and The Natures of Maps shows the way in a captivating manner.

Considering maps from the perspective of propositional logic provides a rigorous foundation for a theory of the map that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences will find Wood and Fels’ The Natures of Maps intellectually sound, methodologically useful, and deeply engaging. But the beauty of The Natures of Maps is that it is not merely an academic book. Wood and Fels’ The Natures of Maps is a powerful, beautifully illustrated and engaged argument about maps as arguments that will appeal to map lovers, map makers, map users, and map scholars.

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Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1998, 2nd edition 2001) is a classic book, arguably his best, and certainly a key text in the field of information graphics (which encompasses cartography). I know some cartography courses use the book as a text.

I recall being inspired by the book as a neophyte cartographer back in the late 1990s.

The book looked great: its design communicated the importance of design (when most other cartography and information graphics books were clunky and poorly designed). The tone was serious and high-minded: I was designing information graphics. And I think I absorbed Tufte’s minimalist design philosophy, although cartographic design, at least the way I learned it, was largely minimalist, with no allowance for flourish, fake 3D embellishment, or other chartjunk (or “map-crap” as I call it in the Making Maps book).

While I won’t impugn the importance of lofty inspiration, I did wonder what kind of practical guidelines I could derive from Tufte’s book. You know, specific stuff that would help me to design and make better maps. I sat down one day and made a list of Tufteisms from the book: that list is below.


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