Non-Fic Picks: On and Off the Map

Posted Feb 6, 2015

Whether we realize it or not, geography is in constant flux.  Maps try to harness some sort of permanence of the globe, but landscapes change, countries disintegrate and develop, and people move.  This month's non-fic picks are totally topographical in nature, featuring some wanderlust titles including a map thief, the pros and cons of navigation advances, an urban exploration of off-beat places, and a fresh perspective of the world from outer space.  Travel on!        

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps by Michael Blanding

Illuminating the world we live in, maps can be fascinating, especially older, rare maps.  And, often more than just tools to navigate the world, descriptively drawn maps are often beautiful works of art illustrating different phases of humankind’s discoveries.  There’s no doubt that E. Forbes Smiley was hooked, so hooked that he was caught cutting maps out of priceless books at Yale University Library.  Through multiple interviews with Smiley, Blanding captures the map thief’s need to covet these priceless renderings in one of the 21st century’s most infamous white-collared crimes.  Delve into the history of cartography, jump in on a high-stakes crime, and enter an extraordinary world of ornate objects in this compelling narrative that may influence you to purchase a map of your own.

You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves by Hiawatha Bray

With smart technologies like global positioning systems and electronic navigation, it’s no surprise that we know exactly where we are at all times.  Technologies developed for and by the military have changed our daily existence-- giving us turn-by-turn directions, reporting our current location via social media, and helping us position ourselves on the globe.  You Are Here delves into the history of navigation technology starting with a basic compass to complex navigational systems utilized to guide submarines under polar ice caps.  While technology has come a long way, and it may be comforting to know where we are, Bray also challenges us to consider the decline of privacy.  Detailed and engaging, You Are Here is a well-researched book that will definitely make you appreciate and mull over your current location.

Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett

Secret municipalities, villages on the move, micro-nations, inaccessible urban areas, and dead cities spot the globe, yet most of us haven’t even heard of their existence.  For example, visit the pirate communities of Hobyo; meet the community that lives in the North Cemetery of Manila; and stopover at Sealand, a once abandoned English gun platform turned sovereign nation.  With original maps and drawings, Unruly Places takes you off the grid and lets you wander with a quirky fascination.  And, with 47 short vignettes, this cleverly devised book lets you explore with small amounts time or a short attention span.  Travel in the comfort of your armchair, on the bus, or in the lunchroom because you won’t need your passport for this kind of adventure-- only your library card.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes by Chris Hadfield

Explore the wonders of the world from outside the earth’s atmosphere with You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.  With 192 colorful, fun, and fascinating photos, astronaut Chris Hadfield takes readers on a visual tour of the globe, continent by continent, through a series of images taken during his time spent on the International Space Station.  To complement the photographs, Hadfield also provides his unique perspective of living life without gravity and a distinct mindset about human settlements, overlooked landscapes, and the natural forces that are shaping our present society.  So, take yourself off the map and blast off into outer space with this eye-popping topographical title.

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