The mapmakers

by John Noble Wilford

Hardcover, 1981




New York : Knopf, 1981.


"Wilford tells the dramatic story of how, through the ages, technology - compasses, sextants, theodolites, cameras, airplanes, radar, sonar, computers, seismic probes, lasers, satellites - has transformed the way we see and measure our world. He details the innovations, from John Harrison's eighteenth-century marine chronometer, which enabled navigators to calculate longitude at sea, to the Pentagon's Global Positioning System (GPS), now used as widely by civilians as by the military to pinpoint the bearer's exact location on the globe."--BOOK JACKET.

User reviews

LibraryThing member robeik
This is a wonderful summary of the history of map mapping, from the time before Ptolomey through to mapping the oceans and the universe. It provides another insight into the more well known stories of exploration such as Columbus, Cook and Flinders. Most interesting is the description of the hard work put into mapping the world, the struggles with determining the size of the earth, the elusive measurement of longitude, and the politics of mapping making.

I read the second edition (2001) and it too is already quite dated. Therefore personal GPS systems are covered as the 'latest thing', whilst digital cameras are Google Maps are of course missing. Could the author have foreseen that in 2011 anyone with access to a computer can be involved in mapping the world, for example by geo-tagging images?

One gripe I have is that the printing process has not done justice to the illustrations and images. One wishes for high resolution images, perhaps printed on gloss stock. What are presented are very poor reproductions. Perhaps a coffee-table book just containing old maps would be a good companion book.

This book is well written. It is well structured with it's chapters, allowing the author to cover the field by subject matter, and still maintain a sensible chronological order.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
John Noble Wilford does a wonderful job of making what would seem to be a very dry subject an entertaining read.
LibraryThing member AlCracka
I have to remember not to pick up books that look interesting without researching them. I wanted to like this so bad...but it's totally boring.
LibraryThing member librisissimo
Contains lots of interesting information, more than I really needed about cartographic and surveying techniques. The early-age historical chapters were very informative, and the later modern-age ones a little drier.
Wilford uses a straight-forward narrative, packed with detail rather than repetition and faux-suspense (as so unfortunately prevalent in the recent History Channel mode).… (more)
LibraryThing member dypaloh
John Wilford Noble’s The Mapmakers is a terrific source of stories and information about famous mapmakers and the mapping techniques of the past. A good deal of the history is related through biographical details about the “makers” and these are nearly always interesting and even dramatic. It was a profession that attracted adventurous souls. Those souls were needed, too. If we had remained obliged to rely on “learned Europeans,” we’d have been telling each other, for example, that mountains “categorically” can’t be higher than about 25,000 feet. Hear that, Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, and the rest?

As mapmaking became more highly technological, which is described in the latter part of the book, adventure is less prominently part of the story. If technical text makes your heart sing, why, be sure to read the entire book. If you’d honestly just rather watch cricket, then stick to the earlier chapters for the more personal drama of mapmaking.

I read the revised edition, dated 2001. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. This isn’t the right book if your focus is the more recent quite remarkable developments.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Well, the original is in CLAN - maybe I should wait until they get the revised, or not worry about it, whatever....



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