Archive for the ‘Map Books’ Category



I was moving some piles of junk in a storage room and came across a 1934 U.S. Public Works Administration book on Mississippi Valley public works projects (Report of the Mississippi Valley Committee of the Public Works Administration, October 1, 1934). The book is full of maps and other information graphics influenced by Otto Neurath, Gerd Arntz, and Marie Reidemeister’s picture language, isotype.

I always thought isotype had a great look to it.  Its context, in Vienna Circle logical positivism, is a bit wonky, and the idea that symbols – if designed carefully enough – could be “universally communicable” across all cultural and social differences, is merely the dream of those born with a peculiar neurology.  Nevertheless, the isotype “look” is cool in a retro sort of way, and it has certainly influenced the current spare design ethos in cartography.

Some annotated examples of the isotype “language” from a 1937 article by Neurath:

isotype_lang1 sotype_lang2 sotype_lang3

The Gerd Arntz Web Archive is a spectacular collection of thousands of isotype symbols designed by Arntz. All seem to be free to use. (symbols are copyrighted by Pictoright – thanks to Jonathan Hunt for pointing this out). The site also has a breif biography of Arntz.

gmdh02_00158_0 gmdh02_00094_0gmdh02_00045

In casting about the internets, I was gladdened to find someone had scanned the isotype classic, Atlas of Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft (1930, 14+mb PDF).  As far as I know the atlas was printed (on sheets) in limited numbers and has never been easy to find.  Sybilla Nikolow discusses the atlas in her article “Society and Economy: An Atlas in Otto Neurath’s Pictorial Statistics from 1930.” (PDF)

A sampling of maps and graphs from the Atlas follows, and a few more useful isotype resources can be found way at the end.




























A few interesting isotype resources:

The Isotype Institute documents the history of isotype and has much useful information.

A snazzy discussion of isotype done up by mixing isotype and text is Modern Hieroglyphics. (PDF)

Ellen Lupton reviews the history and significance of isotype in her article “Reading Isotype.” (PDF)


Neurath and the Vienna Method of Picture Statistics (PDF). A chapter out of an e-book called Speaking of Graphics An Essay on Graphicacy in Science, Technology and Business by Paul J. Lewi. Seems like a nice overview of the history of isotype and its characteristics.

The DADA Companion has much information on design and art related to isotype. Search for “isotype” or “Neurath.”

A new book to be published in April of 2009 is called The Transformer: Principles of Making Isotype Charts by Marie Neurath and Robin Kinross.

Austin Kleon’s blog on graphic design has a nice posting on isotype, comics, and information graphics design. Search the blog for other isotype references.

The web magazine Mute has a feature called The Dutch Are Weeping in Four Universal Pictorial Languages At Least that reviews a series of contemporary exhibits that focus on isotype and related ideas. One exhibit called After Neurath has a significant amount of information and links.

The New York Times summarized 2007 US and Coalition member deaths in Iraq in a isotype-esque chart (click for larger version):


Stroom De Haag writes (in the online magazine Archined) about Neurath as the “grandfather of open source.”

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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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