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Where We Are

Two books of maps, real and imagined: the Oxford Atlas of The World and The Map as Art.

Book Cover Before the literary landscape became littered with all types of annuals entitled Best American This or That, or simply Best Blah Blah Blah 20__, I would look forward to what I took to be a precious yearly harvest. Happily, there is still one book issued every year that I count on for that nice jolt of pleasure one receives from holding and opening a brand new book for the first time.

The Oxford Atlas of the World (Oxford University Press), first published in 1992, is currently in its sixteenth edition. Along with its superb production values, acclaimed cartographical accuracy, satellite imagery, and large aggregation of geographical information and statistics, the Atlas is updated every year to respond to elections, ware, shifting demographics, and natural cataclysms.

This large but manageable book has a user’s guide, a glossary, the Gazetteer of Nations, which gives a concise A-Z profile of all the planet’s nations, and as you might expect maps in all sizes and configurations.

Book Cover Though I am content to admire maps in their undiluted practical applications or informational modality, Katharine Harmon (You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination) has assembled a fascinating compendium of 360 “maps” by artists—Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, Olafur Eliasson, Maira Kalman, William Kentridge, and 150 others—in a monograph entitled The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography (Princeton Architectural Press). Art historian Gayle Clemans contributes some illuminating essays, though the images are certainly articulate on their own.

Both volumes are a treat—one charts paths that can and have been taken, the other, trails blazed by imaginations. It’s a nice choice to have.
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