Cartographers have known for decades that maps are far from objective representations of the world; rather, every map reflects the agendas and intentions of its creators. Yet that understanding has had almost no effect on the way maps are viewed and used by the general public. In The Natures of Maps, cartographers Denis Wood and John Fels present a compelling exploration of a wide range of maps to answer the question of, as they put it, why maps have “gotten away with it.”
To answer that question, the authors turn to a category of maps with a particularly strong reputation for objectivity: maps of nature. From depictions of species habitats and bird migrations to portrayals of the wilds of the Grand Canyon and the reaches of the Milky Way, such maps are usually presumed—even by users who should know better—to be strictly scientific. Yet by drawing our attention to every aspect of these maps’ self-presentation, from place names to titles and legends, the authors reveal the way that each piece of information collaborates in a disguised effort to mount an argument about reality. Without our realizing it, those arguments can then come to define our very relationship to the natural world—determining whether we see ourselves as humble hikers or rampaging despoilers, participants or observers, consumers or stewards.
Richly illustrated, and crafted in vivid and witty prose, The Natures of Maps will enlighten and entertain map aficionados, scholars, and armchair navigators alike. You’ll never be able to look at Google Maps quite the same way again.