Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 12, 2013 11:30 PM—Book Review: Maphead

Another good book for the record.  This one is actually one of the best I’ve found since being here.  I just finished reading Maphead by Ken Jennings.  The name Ken Jennings may sound familiar…hmmmm.  This is because he is the same Ken Jennings who had a record winning streak on Jeopardy! a few years ago.  But as I found out from reading this book, he also has a keen interest for maps.

In this book, Jennings makes maps and geography interesting even to people who are not so interested in them.  As many people who know me should know, I enjoy maps, but apparently not as much as I thought.  I can tell you the names of all the countries and capitals of the world but I can’t tell you the population and land area of all of those capitals.  This book has proved to me that there is so much more to geography then I ever thought.

Maphead covers many different aspects of ancient cartography and even modern maps and map making.  Throughout history map making required exploration and adventure because people didn’t know exactly what was out there.  However, now that the whole world is mapped, map makers and “mapheads” (people who enjoy maps) have to think outside the box to really explore the world.  In this book, each chapter covers a different topic in reference to maps.  We can see how maps have reached modern technology in things such as Google Maps and Geocaching.  We also get an inside look into The National Geography Bee and map rallying.  Jennings also discusses his own thoughts and research into why people like maps, what makes someone good with maps and how the next generation will view maps (or lack thereof).

From reading this, I’ve realized that maps are more important than one might think.  We can’t just use a GPS and not really understand where we are.  It’s depressing to see how many Americans can’t identify some basic landmarks on a map.  Geography education is something that I think is definitely lacking in the U.S.  But I’ve also realized that exploring the globe is all arbitrary.  For example, some people set out to find and visit the highest points in every one of the 50 states, but once they do that, what have they really accomplished?  They’ve seen the highest points (some of them not even that high or exciting) in 50 different random land masses.  When you really think about it, it means nothing.

Maps are important for education and one’s own self awareness, but every map is in the eye of the beholder or simply the map maker.

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