911: A History of the World in 12 Maps by Jerry Brotton

by Gerard


911: Brotton, Jerry. A History of the World in Twelve Maps. London: Penguin, 2013. 445 pp. ISBN 978-0-141-03493-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 910: Geography and travel
  • 911: Historical geography

Maps serve two functions. They give you information—where people have been, places people have mapped, and the names given to those places. They also give you a destination, they let the heart roam over distant lands, and hope for an adventurous future. This information and hope have driven human history in more ways than we think. Beginning with a cuneiform clay tablet found in the site of the ancient city of Sippar in Babylonia, maps exist as an interesting window into how a civilization (or at least the mapmaker) views the world. In the 15th century, when the technology and means caught up to the desire to explore, the edges of the maps begin to be filled in and mankind got a truer picture of the world it inhabits. Jerry Brotton’s History of the World in Twelve Maps is a look at the world by investigating maps created at key points in history and what those maps say about the humans making them.

The twelve maps that Brotton uses range from Ptolemy’s map conceived around 150 CE up through the maps created by Google Earth. Each map encompasses a trait of the age. For instance, Gerard Mercator’s 1569 world map embodies the tolerance of Dutch explorers, the Cassini family’s 1793 map of France tells just as much about the nationalism at play as it does about the mapmaking of the day, and the Peters Projection of 1973 starts to incorporate the equality movement into cartography. There’s just as much history as there is geography in this book, and it’s a delightfully full book. Brotton’s inclusion of different projections, mapping methods, and illustrations is quite appreciated. Believe it or not, there are books on geography out there without maps, and they can be incredibly frustrating. Brotton’s research is pretty wide-ranging and inclusive, so you can easily move your way to other sources if you want to. All in all, this was a very good book with a ton of information.