Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet

by Nicholas Crane

Hardcover, 2003



Henry Holt and Co. (2003), Edition: First Edition, 368 pages


Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) was born at the dawn of the Age of Discovery, when the world was beginning to be discovered and carved up by navigators, geographers and cartographers. Mercator was the greatest and most ingenious cartographer of them all: it was he who coined the word 'atlas' and solved the riddle of converting the three-dimensional globe into a two-dimensional map while retaining true compass bearings. It is Mercator's Projection that NASA are using today to map Mars. How did Mercator reconcile his religious beliefs with a science that would make Christian maps obsolete? How did a man whose imagination roamed continents endure imprisonment by the Inquisition? Crane brings this great man vividly to life, underlying it with colour illustrations of the maps themselves: maps that brought to a rapt public wonders as remarkable as today's cyber-world.… (more)

Media reviews

The great sixteenth-century cartographers, of whom Mercator would become the greatest, required two very different skills. They had to be able to garner, assimilate, adjudge and co-ordinate the geographical information provided by explorers and sailors who frequented the margins of the known. They
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also had to be able to imagine themselves suspended in the air, to achieve the visionary perspective of gods, gazing down on to the world from the amplitudes of heaven. Mercator's name is most familiar to us because of the Mercator Projection: the solution he devised to represent the spheroidal surface of the globe on a two-dimensional plane. It is less well known that Mercator was the first man to conceive of mapping the entire surface of the planet or that he pioneered the idea of presenting multiple maps in bound books, to which he gave the name 'Atlas'.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Othemts
A biography of the man who gave to the world of cartography the Atlas and the Mercator Projection. Crane sets the story amid the chaos of reformation Europe and the news from explorers of a growing world. Despite all that, the book is rather dry and Crane seems to stretch to make Mercator a heroic
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man of his era. I really had to struggle to complete it, but I suppose I’m a better man for it.
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LibraryThing member Gantois
Great book about an extraordinary person, the Flemish cartographer Gerard De Kremer, better known as Gerardus Mercator. He designed the world map that we still use today and was a scientist, humanist and excellent mapmaker. Nicholas Crane reconstructs his life and works and puts everything in the
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context of the age of humanism.
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LibraryThing member amartineau
could not reach the fourth chapter, too boring.
LibraryThing member NielsenGW
Crane's definitive biography of Gerard Kremer -- the man who would later become Gerard Mercator -- is breathtaking in its scholarship. While the early years are filled with "may haves" and "could have beens," once he becomes a scholar, his history lights up with excitement. Even though Mercator
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never left Northern Europe, he invented italic script, met the great humanists of the day, and mapped the world twice over. He collated and synthesized every ancient text and every map as well as created a now-universal projection system for cartography. This biography is a must-read.
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LibraryThing member MiaCulpa
"Mercator" faces the problem that while the man behind the projection shaped the way we, hundreds of years after his death, see the world, he didn't actually live an interesting life.

As a result, we slog through chapters on his life and the development of his cartographic craft, with the
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occasional, and much more interesting, references to wars and destruction occurring around Mercator. More words are devoted to the (generally low) sales of his maps than to the time he spent imprisoned on charges of heresy.

This book also had the "honour" of being the first book I ever read on a Kindle. I'm not sure if it added or took away from my normal reading experience but perhaps add a 1/2 star to my rating if you're reading a hard copy.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
An excellent book about Gerard Mercator, the father of modern map making. Or, how do you make a three dimensional globe fit on a two dimensional map. Without his grid system, GIS specialists would have a much harder time on the job....

The book is well researched, very interesting, and discusses the
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extreme changes of religion, personal freedom, and the role of kingdoms that is the background of Mercator's Life.

Mercator is an interesting person - born to a peasant family with the patriarch working as a shoe maker, Mercator manages to eke out an education when his uncle the priest sponsors him to the local college. After graduating, Mercator starts on the path that sets him up as a famous geographer - learning surveying, map making, and consolidating sources to create the most accurate maps of the time.

Overall, this dense book portrayed a man who lived an amazing life. Fully researched, with a strong background in the politics of this world. Not only do I know more about Mercator's life, but just want it meant to be living in world where Protestantism (and free thinking) was just starting.

One thing I would change is to place the different illustrations and figures in context with the narrative. It's hard to understand the maps and reasoning when the examples are all clumped together.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A good book that places the cartographer in relation to some of the religious and political questions of his time. The reader also gets some insights on Exploration and the book trade of the sixteenth century. Sadly there is not a colour reproduction of Mercator's final world map...but I guess
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that's hard to come by. But I wish you all would read this book, for it is a considerable achievement.
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LibraryThing member Lukerik
What a good book. More than simply a biography of Mercator, but also a history of the Low Countries, its Renaissance and cartography. In a way it has to be, as Mercator was rather a passive figure and a quiet family man; and his letters from the first half of his life appear to have been destroyed
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to protect the innocent when he was imprisoned. A very useful approach for someone like me though, who really knows nothing about the Low Countries or their history. This book is very much in the style of popular non-fiction, but is the product of real scholarship. The breadth of Crane’s references are really quite amazing. In places the information comes so thick and fast you’ll have to wait until after breakfast. I learnt loads. I’ve read a few popular-style books on mapping over the years but stopped as they all seem to regurgitate the same information. This book does not and really stands apart.
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LibraryThing member expatscot
I don't think it's maybe the best written book, but some of that is obviously down to the paucity of material about the man himself and to an extent the period. I'd have preferred a bit more detail on the maps (and globes) themselves and why they were so revolutionary rather than lists of people
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who were present at some event, but none-the-less it was worth the read to get a better feeling for the revolutionary times Mercator was living in and the impact he and his fellows had.
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Original language


Physical description

368 p.; 6.56 inches


0805066241 / 9780805066241
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