Brain Pickings

Strange Maps: The Book

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What George Orwell has to do with the Amazons of California and Utopia.

Today is the day we’d been waiting for for a long, long time. For today, Strange Maps — an absolute favorite blog of ours, a frequent source of inspiration, and one of the shiniest hidden gems on the Interwebs — is finally gifting the world with its eponymous book.

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities features 138 of the most fascinating, absorbing and remarkable maps from the blog’s 3-year history of culling the world’s forgotten, little-known and niche cartographic treasures.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book is brim-full of priceless anecdotes from our collective conception of the world over the centuries.

But what makes all these maps really special is that they somehow capture and reveal a great deal about human psychology and thought — the humor of political parody (Hey there, United States of Canada vs. Jesusuland), the tragicomic bias of a New Yorker’s vantage point, the odd propositions of science gone awry (No, we won’t rename the stars after famous dictators), the inflation of political ego (Sorry, China, you’re not the Middle Kingdom at the center of the world), the absurdity of rampant religious fundamentalism (Really? The final battle between God and Satan in Armageddon will take place exactly at the Megiddo Valley in Israel?), the universal and age-old mistrust of cabbies (Who knew a hexagonal layout of London would prevent passengers from getting ripped off?).

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities is certainly unusual and idiosyncratic — in the most wonderful way possible. At the intersection of history, design, politics and humor, it’s one of those rare beasts that tackle so many facets of culture with utter ease, readability and can’t-put-it-down magnetism.

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