Flattening the Earth: Two Thousand Years of Map Projections

This book can be summarized by: Excellent text about projections, also a very dry read.

I understand the aim of it, more of a history on map projections, the importance of them on a given period of time, and what they brought to the table.

As a scholar text it is really complete and thorough (there’s up to 35 pages of referenced works). As something to read from beginning to end it is quite boring. It’s better to read bit by bit when you feel like it. And be ready to concentrate on the contents, otherwise most of what it tries to tell you will just go over your head.

The book contents are plain but beautiful, full renderings of different map projections help give you an overview on how older maps were built. But at the same time I miss some real scans of old maps where we can see those projections in use. Being a history book would be really nice to present both a rendering alongside a real scan. The few cases where a scan is next to the rendering provide a good context to the projection.

Can’t finish this without commenting about fun excerpts of old descriptions of the projections, for example Ptolemy‘s take on his favourite projection:

(…) Although for these reasons this method of drawing the map is the better one, yet it is less satisfactory in this respect, that it is not as simple as the other…. for me both here and everywhere the better and more difficult scheme is preferable to the one which is poorer and easier, yet both methods are to me retained for the sake of those who, through laziness, are drawn to that certain easier method (…)

— Translation From Stevension 1932,

Full projections are described using this really old language as an example on how the knowledge was passed along before modern mathematics. Luckily, alognside those there’s a description from the author (John P. Synder) which makes everything much clearer.

Not a book I would recommend to everyone, but a really cool book to have in your bookshelf for some short bursts of reading.

Note

I did not finish reading this book yet. I’ve read the renaissance projections chapter and skimmed the nineteenth century projections chapter. (2 of 4 total chapters). Missing chapters on 1670-1799 and the twentieth century.

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Filed under books, gis, Maps

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