An Atlas of….

I’ve always been fascinated by atlases. So much so that if a book has the phrase ‘atlas of’ somewhere in the title my interest is instantly piqued. ‘The History of Paperclips’ sounds like a snooze fest. ‘An Atlas of Paperclips’ on the other hand just might be the ticket. If you haven’t looked at an atlas since high school and perhaps think of them as antiquated and stodgy, now is a great time to get back in the atlas game. You see long gone are the days when atlases simply depicted the geography of countries and continents. They have now branched out to cover a diverse number of really interesting topics. Still skeptical? Take a look at these new and on order titles here at the library and prepare to expand your definition of the atlas.

An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist
In addition to having one of the greatest titles for an atlas that I’ve ever come across, this book is practically a work of art. Each map is die-cut out of the page and beautifully illustrated making this work more akin to an adult picture book than an atlas. Fascinating information about the history and claims to statehood of each country is included, however, making this work no fairy tale.

National Geographic Atlas of Beer
This is definitely an atlas with a singular theme and that theme is beer. Breaking down beers by country and region is the order of the day with graphs, charts and lots of detailed definitions that beer lovers are sure to appreciate. In addition, each geographical entry has a Beer Guide which points you to the best places to sample the suds of your dreams in each area.

Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities
Officially conceived as an aid to genealogical research, this atlas turns out to be much more. Maps for sixteen major American cities are produced in different historical periods so you can see how the cities changed over time and get a sense of the physical space the residents lived in. Though heavily east coast centric, with only San Francisco and Los Angeles representing the west, it is still a fascinating walk back through time.

The World Atlas of Street Fashion
Miles away from the world of haute couture, this atlas documents the clothes worn by everyday people trying to make a statement. Divided by continent, country and city you can learn about diverse clothing movements such as Modern Primitive, Normcore, Goth, Italo-Disco, K-Pop and many more. Particularly interesting is the way you can trace a style across continents, such as Punk, and see how it is interpreted by many different cultures.

Cinemaps: An Atlas of Great Movies
This unique and beautifully illustrated atlas creatively represents the plot lines and characters of key scenes in 35 beloved films. While a classic film or two is represented, including Metropolis and North by Northwest, most are thankfully on the popular side with maps for the likes of The Princess Bride, Back to the Future, several Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations, and even Shaun of the Dead. Each map is quite detailed so it is a help to have essays from film critic A.D. Jameson to help refresh your memory.

Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure
Definitely not for the faint of heart, this atlas sets out to list the best places around the world for outdoor adventure. ‘Adventure’ can mean relatively benign activities such as hiking and biking, but also includes the rather terrifying, to this old man, activities of gorge scrambling, freeriding and skyrunning. With over 150 countries listed there is clearly plenty to do. Just be careful man.

So I hope this brief tour of new atlases has piqued your interest and shown you just how cool they can be. If not, I’m still fine with the label of atlas nerd. Though atlas aficionado does sound classier.

Map It

Reading an atlas, and I won’t even discuss asking for directions, is one of those activities that can cause division while driving down the highway. If you have ever been appointed navigator for a road trip you know what I mean. Figuring out which way is north or thinking the blue line is a road instead of a river, can easily lead to arguments and recriminations while looking for the correct exit.  

I have to admit that I’ve always loved maps and atlases. I think the key to appreciating them is divorcing maps from the everyday function of finding directions. There are many atlases that are beautiful, fascinating and have nothing to do with getting you from point A to point B.

Let’s start with atlases that map places you will almost certainly never go. Unless you have access to a bathysphere, you probably won’t recognize the terrain in Hidden Depths: Atlas of the Oceans.  Far from just a collection of ocean maps, this book includes information on currents, climate and the creatures that inhabit all the world’s oceans.

The Compact NASA Atlas of the Solar System lets you explore the cosmic neighborhood. Each planetary system is mapped, incorporating the stunning images from spacecraft missions.  A truly spectacular book is the New Atlas of the Moon.  Each phase of the moon is mapped in detail. There is also a Lunar Cartography section that has photographs of each feature and how they came to be.

Animals and atlases are an interesting combination.  The Atlas of Pacific Salmon brings together a lot of key data about salmon populations. The graphic display of their movements and the human population’s impact on their numbers is eye-opening.  Tracking fellow long distance travelers, The Atlas of Bird Migration displays the movements of birds by species. Fascinating information about the how and why of migration is provided as well.

Sometimes the definition of atlas is stretched a bit thin. The World Atlas of Whisky is clearly a labor of love, with displays of major brands and bottles, but to be honest, it is a little low on the maps. If whisky is your thing, however, this book is definitely for you. Where else could you find a flow chart for “Irish pot-still production”?

Finally, for those ready to leave the traditional atlas behind, take a look at Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities. Based on a popular blog, this self-proclaimed “anti-atlas” is a treasure trove of maps that are both real and imagined.  Looking for a map of the barbecue regions of South Carolina?  You have found your atlas.

Richard