Strange Maps: an Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities

Picture-5-11-bFrank Jacobs, Viking Studio, 2009
soft cover, ISBN 978-0-14-200525-5, list $30.00, Amazon $19.80

This book starts, “Introduction, Not for Navigation. A word of warning: This is the most improbable, incomplete and incorrect atlas you’re ever likely to hold in your hands.” Frank Jacobs started a weblog called Strange Maps in 2006. Its mission: to collect cartographic curiousa that drifted around the Internet, and to go boldly where no atlas had gone before. And so this book was born. The book runs from “Cartographic Misconceptions” (think Black Rock at the North Pole) to “Political Parody” (the Gerry-mander), to “Obscure Proposals” (cutting the Antarctic continent into 47 pie slices). You get the idea; these are maps for pure fun.
The 244 page book is all in color and you will certainly recognize many of the examples. One example titled “Your Antipodes Most Likely Have Fins” illustrates that if we dig a hole clear through from California we would end up not in China, but in the Indian Ocean between South Africa and Australia. You knew that, but here’s a map you can show the kids to explain it. You’ve undoubtedly seen subway maps in the manner of Henry Beck’s London Underground Map. But how about a Musical Theatre History Tube Map with performers and composers as link lines? One of my favorites is a Diagram of Time in 1860 showing times at places when it was High Noon in Washington DC. One hundred thirty three dials show differing times across the United States and around the world some twenty-three years before standard time zones were adopted.
So this is a rollicking and bizarre look at the improbable and the wonderful part maps can play.
That map on the cover? It’s the world if its oceans and land were reversed. Note the Great Islands in the North American Ocean.
If I have any complaints it is that this book, like so many other new map books, is printed in landscape format and 11 inches wide, meaning you have to shelve it near one side or it sticks out in standard shelving. The answer, of course, is to build yourself some 16 inch deep shelving, which then will stick out four inches beyond your other 12 inch shelving. Stop! I’m giving myself a headache—just get this book and pile it with all those other oversize books in a stack on your coffee table. Problem solved. Wasn’t that easy?

Reviewed by Bill Warren
From the Society’s May 2011 Newsletter