Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I’m best known for DFL and The Map Room. Lately I’ve been reviewing science fiction at AE and editing a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything
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Gift Guide: Map Books of 2015

At about this time of the year I assemble a gift guide that lists some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published this year. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but if someone in your life is just a little bit obsessed about maps (and if you don’t have such a person, why don’t you?), and you’re looking for something to get them, this list might be of use.

Some of these books you’ve seen me blog about before; others I’m mentioning for the first time.

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Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps

Vargic's Map of the Internet 2.0 (detail)

Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps (book cover) In January 2014 a teenage design student from Slovakia named Martin Vargic posted a map of the Internet — inspired, he told The Independent, by the xkcd classic — on his DeviantArt page. The map quickly went viral. Since then, he’s been producing maps of all sorts of things — a revised Internet map, a literature map, historical maps, maps of the world after global warming and an ice age, a stereotype map (see previous entry), plus other infographics — at a dizzying pace, most of which are available for sale on his website. Now his maps are being collected in a book, Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps. It’s out now in the U.K. from Penguin imprint Michael Joseph; in North America it’ll be available in December from HarperCollins. Did I mention he’s a teenager?

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Map of Middle-earth, Annotated by Tolkien Himself, Discovered

Detail of map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien

A map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien has been found. The map, found among the papers of illustrator Pauline Baynes, who died in 2008, was used by Baynes while she worked on a full-colour map of Middle-earth published in 1970. Tolkien’s annotations appear on the map in green ink and pencil; they not only correct some of the errors of the original map (executed by his son, Christopher); they also offer some geographical parallels to our own world (Hobbiton is at the same latitude as Oxford, Minas Tirith at Ravenna’s). Blackwell’s Rare Books is selling the map for £60,000; it’s the centrepiece of a forthcoming catalogue on the work of Pauline Baynes. Via

Previously: The Art of The Lord of the Rings.

Map: Exploring the World

Map: Exploring the World (inside)

Map: Exploring the World (cover) The run-up to every holiday season produces a fresh batch of lavishly illustrated map books, and this year does not appear to be an exception. Map: Exploring the World, a collection of “300 stunning maps from all periods and from all around the world,” came out last month from Phaidon Press. The book was assembled by “an international panel of cartographers, academics, map dealers and collectors,” the publisher says; Forbes contributor Bruce Dorminey’s look at this book reveals that one of them was Library of Congress map curator John Hessler.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

The Art of The Lord of the Rings

Book cover: The Art of The Lord of the Rings When J. R. R. Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, the map was not an afterthought. (For one thing, with characters travelling many miles over many months, separately and together, distances and dates had to add up.) Tolkien didn’t just draft; he drew — maps, sketches, drawings, whatever he needed to help him visualize the world he was inventing. About 180 of those maps and drawings are now collected in a new book out today: The Art of The Lord of the Rings, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (who previously authored The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion). Wired has some sample images. (From what I can tell, the British edition is slipcased.) Via Boing Boing, MetaFilter.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Atlas of Cursed Places

Book cover: Atlas of Cursed Places The first thing to keep in mind about Olivier Le Carrer’s Atlas of Cursed Places is that it’s not an atlas. Rather, it’s a collection of brief essays about a series of unique places around the world. In that I suspect it’s much like Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands or Aude de Tocqueville’s Atlas of Lost Cities (English translation forthcoming next year). All of these books shared a publisher in France; all of them appear to have been conceived under the influence of Calvino.

The Atlas of Cursed Places’s essays are about places in the world that are, for one reason or another, particularly horrible, by dint of their history or geography. There are navigational hazards and environmental disasters, and sites of old horrors that were entirely human-made. Ghost towns, war zones, slums and mausoleums. Animal infestations. Each are engrossing, but the essays barely get started on their subjects: turn the page expecting more and you find yourself already on the next one. Each essay is an act of cruelty (very meta given the subject matter), whetting readers’ appetites but denying us the feast.

In the end this is an exercise in curation: the choices are fascinating, but the essays are affective rather than substantive. In that sense this book is an even lighter read than Alastair Bonnet’s Unruly Places (which seems to have much less Calvino in its book DNA).

(While not an atlas proper, this book does have a lot of maps illustrating each essay. But their effect is disorienting: each cursed place is indicated by a star on an old and out-of-date map, usually a plate from a century-old atlas.)

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

A Fantasy Map Roundup

    Map for The Fifth Season by Tim Paul

  1. N. K. Jemisin talks about the map that accompanies her new fantasy novel, The Fifth Season. Uncharacteristically for a fantasy map, but appropriately for the novel, it indicates tectonic plate boundaries. Also uncharacteristic is its use of shaded relief to indicate mountains. The map was executed by Tim Paul, whose portfolio is here.
  2. is giving away 10 copies of a fold-out poster map that accompanies the boxed set of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. (Entry deadline is October 9 at noon EDT.)
  3. Jake Hayes is collecting maps from children’s fiction on Pinterest.
  4. At The Funambulist last January, Léopold Lambert discussed the use of cartography in François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters’s 2004 graphic novel The Invisible Frontier (Vol. 1, Vol. 2).

    As Fabrice Leroy exposes in “The Representation of Politics and the Politics of Representation in Schuiten and Peeters’s La Frontière Invisible,” (History and Politics in French-Language Comics, Jackson: The University of Mississippi Press, 2008, 117-136), two cartographic paradigms oppose each other throughout Schuiten and Peeters’ novel. The first one is carried by an old man, Monsieur Paul, who is committed to make maps that reflects on the historic conditions of a place, both at an individual empirical level and at a collective (inter)national one. This interpretation of the map is particularly illustrated in the first part of the story with the delicate care of each body interacting empirically with the model/terrain. The second one is also embodied by a character, Ismail Djunov, who undertook to automatize the process of map-making through monumental machines aiming at an objective cartography.

    Something else for me to track down. The Invisible Frontier seems to be out of print.

New Edition of Transit Maps of the World

Book cover: Transit Maps of the World A revised and expanded edition of Mark Ovenden’s Transit Maps of the World is coming out in early November, presumably because the transit systems, and the maps thereof, have also been revised and expanded since the first edition was published in 2007. (My review of the first edition is here.) It’s being published by Penguin in the U.S. and Particular Books (a Penguin imprint) in the U.K.

Pre-order at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Mercator Puzzle

Mercator Puzzle (screenshot)

The Mercator Puzzle is an excellent way to visualize the distortions inherent in the Mercator projection, which conserves angles (useful for navigation) by exaggerating size at the poles (problematic in virtually every other use). Click and drag the countries in this in-browser app to see just how dramatically larger or smaller they become as you move them closer to and further away from the poles. Via Boing Boing.

Previously: Review: Rhumb Lines and Map Wars; Reversing the Mercator Effect.

Linear Lake Michigan

Linearlized Lake Michigan (Daniel Huffman)

Cartographer Daniel Huffman, whose work I posted about a few times on The Map Room, has created a map of Lake Michigan in which the lake’s shoreline has been unfurled into a straight line. “I made this map because I wanted to show space referenced against a natural feature, rather than figuring locations based on the cardinal directions of north/south/etc.,” he says. “I think it’s a very human perspective, grounded in how we relate to the lake, rather than how it looks from space.” (With a 1:6 width/height ratio, it’s also insanely long, rather like a vertical Tabula Peutingeriana, and as such hard to display an excerpt of: you have to sacrifice detail or a sense of the whole. Which is to say: go and see the whole thing.) Via Kottke.

More Maps of Ceres

False colour compositional map of Ceres

New maps of Ceres were released today at the European Planetary Science Conference in Nantes, France. One is a colour-coded topopgraphical map that resembles a map we saw earlier but adds newly approved names for topographical features. Another, the false-colour map seen above, combines imagery through infrared, red and blue filters and highlights compositional differences on Ceres’ surface (different materials reflect light at different frequencies). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Previously: New Maps of Ceres and Pluto; Space Maps: Ceres, Mars, Exoplanets; At Ceres.

Eleusinian Mysteries

Another fantasy story featuring maps, Charlotte Ashley’s “Eleusinian Mysteries,” appears in this month’s issue of Luna Station Quarterly. In it, a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker named Maghfira is punished for making maps of the moon that include a seemingly fanciful feature: a city named Eleusis. Naturally — this is an sf/fantasy story, after all — Eleusis turns out to be not so fanciful, and Maghfira gets herself into further trouble in its pursuit. The story says a little about maps and forbidden knowledge, rather more about about alienation and the urge to strike out into the unknown.

A Geographically Accurate Tube Map

London Connections map (detail)

There is no transit map more iconic than the London Underground’s Tube map. First created by Harry Beck in the 1930s, the design has inspired countless other transit network maps that are schematic diagrams rather than geographically accurate maps. But Transport for London, which operates the Underground, also has a geographically accurate map of the network: it was strictly for internal use, but a freedom of information request has now brought it to light. It’s available here (PDF). The response has been so good that TfL now says it’ll be added to their website. CityMetric, Mapping London.

The Map Room’s archives have lots of blog posts about transit maps and their design.

Real World vs. Fantasy Maps

In my study of fantasy maps, one thing I’m particularly interested in is the difference between fantasy maps and their real-world counterparts. Those differences can be substantial; at some point I hope to go into a bit more depth about them. Meanwhile, James Hinton’s guest post at The Worldbuilding School tries to address this subject by comparing a single real-world city map (London, 1653) with a non-canonical map of Osgiliath from a role-playing game. His point turns out to be that fantasy settings should make sense (Osgiliath, according to the map, doesn’t): it’s a question of geography rather than cartography. The territory rather than the map. But if you begin building your fantasy world by drawing the map … Via MetaFilter.

Atlas of Stereotypes

Culinary Map of Europe According to France (Yanko Tsvetkov)

Back when I was doing The Map Room, I followed along as Yanko Tsvetkov started producing map after map of European stereotypes. The project really took off. He’s kept at it since, while I wasn’t looking quite as closely; he’s also collected them into two self-published volumes called the Atlas of Prejudice, which appear to have sold rather well in several different languages. As of July, an all-in-one edition, Atlas of Prejudice: The Complete Stereotype Map Collection, containing all the maps from the previous volumes plus 25 more, is now available.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Previously: Yanko Tsvetkov’s Beloved Europe; Mapping European Stereotypes; Stereotype Maps of the World, Unite!

Mind the Map

Book cover: Mind the Map A new book of map art is due out from Gestalten later this month. Mind the Map, edited by Antonis Antoniou, Robert Klanten and Sven Ehmann, seems very much in the same vein as their previous effort, A Map of the World. “Mind the Map is a showcase that reflects the broad range of work now being created by a new generation of mapmakers from around the world including classically legible maps, artistic experiments, editorial illustrations, city views, vacation guides, and global overviews.” The Guardian has some samples, as does the publisher’s catalog page.

Pre-order Mind the Map at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Previously: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers.

Fictional Maps International Conference

The Fictional Maps International Conference, an academic conference on the use of maps in fiction, will take place from January 21 to 23, 2016 at the University of Silesia’s Scientific Information Centre and Academic Library in Katowice, Poland. Stefan Ekman, the author of Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings (my review), is the keynote speaker. Deadline for submitting abstracts is October 30.

If you’ve been following along, you will instantly understand that this is very much relevant to my interests, and though it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve been in academic mode, I might have to figure out a way to go to this.

Plotted: A Literary Atlas

Book cover: Plotted: A Literary Atlas Coming in October from Zest Books: Andrew DeGraff’s Plotted: A Literary Atlas, a collection of the artist’s maps of fictional worlds. The Huffington Post has an interview with the author and sample pages from the book, from which we can get a sense both of DeGraff’s distinct and idiosyncratic artwork and the books he chose to make maps for. They’re not necessarily books you’d expect maps for (e.g., A Christmas Carol). These are maps of the stories — not, as we see in fantasy maps, of the stories’ setting — which means a completely different perspective that takes into account both time and distance travelled.

Pre-order Plotted: A Literary Atlas at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Bellerby’s Hand-Painted Globes

Bellerby & Co: 80cm globe with added illustrations & bespoke cartography including larger font

Bellerby & Co. produces gorgeous hand-made, hand-painted globes. Peter Bellerby started the company six years ago — he wanted to make a globe for his father for his birthday, but got a bit carried away. Very much a luxury product: the least expensive item I could find in their catalogue was £999, and the higher-end and custom globes climb well into five figures. Not, in other words, comparable to Replogle’s product line.

Interesting behind-the-scenes photos at their Instagram account; see also their YouTube channel. Via Kottke.

More about globes in The Map Room’s archives.

And in Google Maps News …

Google’s Map Maker is in the process of reopening, with six countries reopening on August 10 and another 45 countries last Monday. Map Maker, Google’s tool allowing users to make changes to Google Maps, was suspended last May after some embarrassing edits came to light. Regional leads are now in place to review user edits before they go live on the map.

If mapcodes and other geographical shortcodes aren’t Googly enough for you, take a look at Open Location Codes, a Google-developed, open-sourced project. Generated algorithmically rather than with data tables. Announced for developers last April, they can now be used in Google Maps searches.

New Maps of Ceres and Pluto

Global Map of Pluto

As I predicted, a new global map of Pluto has been released that incorporates the imagery that has been downlinked so far from the New Horizons flyby: with gridlines, without gridlines. If nothing else, the equatorial projection demonstrates how much of Pluto’s surface was not seen during the very brief encounter. From what I understand, imagery downlinks will resume in September and carry on for another year, so this map will almost certainly see many more updates.

Meanwhile, Ceres also has some new maps.

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Three Books on WWII Maps

  1. Great Escapes: The Story of MI9’s Second World War Escape and Evasion Maps by Barbara Bond (Times Books, October 2015): history of the escape maps produced for prisoners of war. Pre-order at Amazon (Canada, U.K.).
  2. Mapping the Second World War by Peter Chasseaud (Collins, October 2015): a collection of historical maps; follow-up to Chasseaud’s 2013 book Mapping the First World War. Pre-order at Amazon (Canada, U.K.).

  3. Mapping the Second World War: The Key Battles of the European Theatre from Above by Michael Swift and Michael Sharpe (Conway Maritime Press, November 2014). Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.).

Previously: Two Books on WWI Maps.

History of Cartography Project’s Sixth Volume Now Out

History of Cartography Volume 6 (book covers)

The sixth volume of the massive History of Cartography Project, Cartography in the Twentieth Century, is now available. Edited by Mark Monmonier, it takes two physical volumes and nearly two thousand pages to cover mapmaking in the twentieth century — and lists for an eye-popping $500 (U.S.), though it’s a bit cheaper on Amazon.

Volumes one through three are available for free download. Volumes four and five, covering the European Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, respectively, are still in development.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Previously: History of Cartography Project Co-Founder Dies.


The New Yorker’s Elements blog has a piece about mapcodes. These are short alphanumeric codes assigned to every location on the planet, with short codes reserved for areas of high population density. It’s meant to be a substitute for latitude and longitude, and aimed at parts of the world where there are no formal addresses (which makes directions somewhat interesting): give someone a mapcode, and you’re giving them a very precise location.

The Peace Tower in Ottawa, for example, has an Ontario mapcode of 09W.YK (mapcodes exist within country and state/provincial contexts).

The main problem, as I see it, is that while the Mapcode Foundation is trying to make mapcodes a standard, it still relies on data tables to produce the code, which is to say that there’s some computational overhead. Whereas something like Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates can be derived from topo maps (which have UTM grids on them).

The Best Map of Pluto Ever (Until Some Time Later This Month)

New Horizons Map of Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft’s rendezvous with Pluto is next week, folks, but we’re already getting better views of our favourite dwarf planet than we’ve ever had before. NASA has assembled images taken between June 27 and July 3 into the above map, which despite its relatively low resolution shows some intriguing surface features: the so-called “whale” and “donut.” (Of course, low resolution is relative: this is already much better than the Hubble-based maps of Pluto released in 2005 and 2010.) Image credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI.

Robert Lazzaretti, Fantasy Mapmaker

Lou Anders interviews fantasy mapmaker Robert Lazzaretti, who drew the maps for Anders’s Thrones and Bones series (Frostborn, Nightborn). I can never get enough information about the process of making fantasy maps.

Previously: Mapping An Ember in the Ashes; How to Make a Fantasy Map.

RIP Yahoo Maps

Citing changing priorities, Yahoo announced today that Yahoo Maps is among the products that it will be shutting down; it’ll go dark at the end of this month. “However,” says Yahoo chief architect Amotz Maimon, “in the context of Yahoo search and on several other Yahoo properties including Flickr, we will continue to support maps.” Business Insider, TechCrunch, VentureBeat.

For a few years Yahoo Maps got frequent upgrades and improvements. The current map platform launched in May 2007; it replaced a Flash-based map engine that first debuted as a beta in November 2005 and became the default map a year later, replacing an even older map service that, if my memory serves, was like the pre-Google Maps MapQuest. Since then Yahoo Maps has stagnated — but for a while there, before Google Maps became the dominant juggernaut it is today, it could have been a contender.

Mapping the California Sea Floor

Colored Shaded-Relief Bathymetry Offshore of San Francisco, California

The USGS’s California Seafloor Mapping Program has produced a set of insanely detailed maps of the sea floor along the California coast. Downloadable as rather hefty PDF files; the map sheets are three feet across as paper maps. Above, a detail from the shaded-relief bathymetry map of the San Francisco area. Boing Boing, Wired.

Mapping An Ember in the Ashes

Jonathan Roberts's map for An Ember in the Ashes

The fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts has a blog post, reprinted at, that shows some of the steps involved in creating the map for Sabaa Tahir’s novel An Ember in the Ashes.

I sometimes get asked how to do a fantasy map. I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m basically a fantasy map critic, not a working illustrator. What the people asking me this question want is an instruction manual for the standard fantasy map, and for that, Roberts is their man, because he’s an actual illustrator. He does operate within the dominant fantasy map paradigm I often critique (though with a good deal more colour and texture than the standard line drawing), but he does it very well, and more importantly shares his methods. Roberts’s blog is full of interesting material on how he goes about creating fantasy maps: see for example this tutorial.

Google Apologizes for Offensive Map Search Results

Google Maps had to apologize again last week, this time because searching for racist terms gave results like the White House and Howard University. The results were derived from online discussions: idiots using an offensive term to describe a place associated the term with the place in Google’s search algorithms. Google says it’s changing the algorithm to fix the problem (because algorithms are to Google what procedures are to bureaucracies — the source of, and solution to, all life’s problems). Boing Boing, Engadget.

Previously: Google Map Maker Program Suspended.

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