7 books to feed your obsession with maps

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Over the years I’ve gathered a small collection of books about maps. I bought a few of them, a few were gifts from people who recognized my fascination for all things cartographic, and a few I’ve borrowed from the library but are still on my wishlist. To help get inspired for my upcoming workshop, Mixed-Media Map-Making, I’m revisiting my collection and remembering why maps are so inspiring. If you could use some artistic inspiration, check your local library or bookstore for these titles!

How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier

The first book I ever read about maps, this might have been responsible for turning a vague curiosity into an all out obsession. My mind was blown by the revelation that no map is unbiased or 100% accurate. Every map is made for a purpose and between the difficulties of turning a 3D world into a 2D representation and the inevitable agendas and subjectivity of its makers, there will always be information that is left out or added. Suddenly I discovered that maps weren’t just aesthetically pleasing, they were also subversive, coercive, and full of stories. This book was originally published in the 90s, but there’s a new version coming out next spring with updates dealing with all the ways that technology has changed the practice of map-making. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. 

Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Map Making, Imagination, and Travel by Jill K. Berry, McNeilly, Linden

If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions for art projects that involve creating or repurposing maps, this is a great book. I haven’t made any of the projects but I do love flipping through for ideas. Learn the basics of how maps are constructed, then go wild using them to interpret your own experiences and stories. (If you’re looking for a guided approach to this kind of thing, you should come to my workshop! More details here.) 

The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography by Katharine Harmon and Gayle Clemans

A giant compendium of art inspired by geography and cartography, this is a beautiful book to get lost in. It’s exciting to see how the use of maps can make such bold statements in art and how important geography is to our sense of self. One of my favourite works from the book: Beijing-based artist Qin travelled a historic 6000-mile march across China and had the entire route documented on his back with tattoos.

You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katharine Harmon

These maps go beyond geography and into the realms of anatomy, love, memory, and so much more. Divided into sections like ‘Personal Geography’ and ‘Realms of Fantasy’, this collection show a deeper truth than ‘realistic’ maps could ever hope to. 

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky  (Author), Christine Lo (Translator)

The title of this one makes me happy. For a person who feels stressed about how many amazing places there are to see in one lifetime, it’s nice to know there are at least 50 to cross off the list. Illustrated with beautiful maps, each island is described through stories and historical details: there are a lot of mutinies, shipwrecks, and lonesome soldiers and scientists. A great spark for the imagination, and the perfect book to enjoy snuggled up somewhere warm and safe. 

Maps that Made History:  The Influential, the Eccentric and the Sublime by Lez Smart

Maps make excellent historical records of events, people, and ideas. Each beautiful map in this collection is accompanied by a story about how the map came to be and the influence that it had on the development of that particular society. It describes in vivid detail why a map is never just a map. 

Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers
by Becky Cooper and Bonnie Briant

Becky Cooper made a simple but beautiful letterpress map of Manhattan and handed it out to hundreds of people she met on the street, as well as a handful of influential New Yorkers. This book is about the process of walking from one end of the island to the other, the people she met along the way, and the maps that were sent back to her. It’s a public art experiment and a lovely look at how many different ways there are to look at the same place. 

Of course, every time I look into books about maps, I see that seemingly dozens more have cropped up. The exploration will never end! 

Do you have a favourite book about maps? Leave a comment below!