The Atlas of Atlases: Exploring the Most Important Atlases in History and the Cartographers Who Made Them

Ivy. (Liber Historica). Oct. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780711268050. $40. REF
Parker, a specialist in ancient and medieval political and military systems (A History of Britain in Maps; The DK Eyewitness Companion Guide to World History) packs a wealth of meticulous detail into this look at the development of the atlas. Chronological sections address eras and trends in mapping and the politics that affects it, moving from the earliest creations, such as a map on an ancient Egyptian coffin lid that shows how the deceased can avoid the Lake of the Knife Wielders, to today’s digitized works, methods, and concerns. Along with great detail on the maps presented, the realms they came from, and their creators, well-reproduced color images of the works are a highlight of this survey. An unexpected bonus is the language used in delving into the artworks and their backgrounds, such as the “shapeless chaos” that characterized the lands outside the known world on medieval maps and the “hairsplitting logic [and] potpourri of selective classical sources” those maps sprang from. Noteworthy is Parker’s forthrightness about when something isn’t known and when a particular point might have been exaggerated by its long-gone creator for political or preening reasons; this author knows his scholarship.
VERDICT Visually and textually, a beautiful and absorbing treat.
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