Get Out The Map: 6 Books for Cartophiles

Get Out The Map: 6 Books for Cartophiles
Vintage map of the world dating back to 1814, Photo Credit:

Crazy about Cartography? You must get your hands on these

Roshni Subramanian
August 27 , 2021
09 Min Read

An insight into a universe you never knew existed; a gateway to adventures in faraway lands. Maps aren't just geographical indicators, they also tell stories. Stories that immerse you in a world that you’ll never want to leave.

For me personally, the maps of fictional lands seemed a lot more captivating than the ones that charted the depths of the oceans or the surface of remote terrains. Be it an outline of Westeros and Essos, depicted in Game of Thrones or the Marauder’s Map, straight out of Rowling’s ‘Potterverse’, these frame-worthy, collectible maps are probably one of the first things that you’d find adorning the walls of a map geek. 


But the modern traveller in us seems to be increasingly dependent on the screens in our pockets. Well, Google Maps sure has opened a world full of possibilities. And let’s face it, maps today are a lot more accessible than they have ever been in the past. But have you explored the world of conceptual maps? 

If the magic of maps hasn’t transported you yet, these books are sure to seal the deal.

Atlas of Vanishing Places

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Unsung places and lost worlds, Travis Elborough’s Atlas of Vanishing Places takes you to those corners that have today disappeared from the face of the Earth. After his bestselling, Atlas of the Improbable Places and Atlas of the Unexpected, the Atlas of Vanishing Places is the third part of his trilogy. From discovering ancient seats to exploring forgotten civilisations through Mayan cities, Elborough’s collection of maps and photographs serve as a window into the past. 

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas

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We can’t talk about maps without bringing up Rebecca Solnit’s body of work. An assemblage of maps and essays, Unfathomable City looks at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans. Calling it a city replete with paradoxes, Solnit along with co-author Rebecca Snedeker delves into the depths of  the city’s history, culture and the monumental disasters that it has witnessed. The book features nearly 22 double-spread maps, that cover the fours C’s—commerce, commentary, crime and culture. The maps are accompanied by a number of essays, each shedding light on aspects like the urbanisation of New Orleans due to commerce, the wanderings of non-locals, the criminalisation and victimisation of African-American population and a range of other social justice issues. 

You are here NYC: Mapping The Soul of The City

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Consider this a gentle reminder as to why New York is the greatest city in the world. And as Simon de Beauvoir once said, there is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless. Featuring nearly 200 maps, each charting the five boroughs, Harmon’s book gives you a glimpse of New York’s past and future. Peppered with short essays by contributors like Bob Mankoff, Rebecca Cooper and Sarah Boxer, Harmon’s mapping of New York includes everything, from mythical locations that could have once existed to the real history of NYC. Harmon’s collection re-emphasises why New York is a mapmaker’s delight.

All Over The Map: A Cartographic Odyssey

When the love for cartography overwhelms you, you commit to paper. At least that’s what journalists Betsy Mason and Greg Miller did with All Over The Map. As the preface suggests, created for map lovers and by map lovers, the book traces the history of cartography and the intriguing stories behind each map from different cultures, civilisations and time periods. The collection also includes dozens of interviews of cartographers, historians and scholars. Mason and Miller present a visual contrast of ancient and contemporary maps, picturing maps from pop culture and even those created by government and companies experimenting with data. The carefully illustrated book captures the human nature of cartography.

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

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Rebecca Solnit is back on the list. And this time she’s taking us all the way to San Francisco. Again a collection of 22 maps and accompanying essays, it’s an attempt to better understand the urban space. As stated by Solnit herself, “I wanted to make maps gorgeous, seductive, delicious and beautiful again”—her Infinite City does all that but rather in a more whimsical way and filled with surprising juxtapositions. From including maps that outline queer public spaces to those that show toxic mines and factories in the Bay Area, it illuminates the experiences of different inhabitants. A little after the release of the book, nearly a decade ago, Solnit suggested that it was an attempt to reclaim the love for maps and provide an alternative to GPS and Google Maps. 

London Walks

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Illustrator and writer Joanna Walsh aka Badaude’s debut novel, London Walks is more of an anti-guide book. Filled with cartoons and visual essays about the city, the hand-drawn, quirky set of maps takes you through the labyrinth of streets and its whirlwind of impressions. Her intricate drawings replicate the multilayered, four dimensional experience of living in London. Accompanied by observations and anecdotes, Badaude’s travel guide is a collection of personal memories and a melting pot of varied themes.  



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