Map Addict:
A Tale of Obsession, Fudge and the Ordnance Survey

Mike Parker

Collins 2009
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
Map Addict is a light-hearted romp through British cartography which looks at some iconic maps and explores the broader history, politics, and psychology of maps and mapping.

Among the maps which feature are the Readers Digest Complete Atlas of the British Isles, the AA Illustrated Road Book of England and Wales, the London metro map, Paris' little red book, Phyllis Pearsall and the London A-Z, and Nancy Chandler's map of Bangkok. Above all of those, however, is the Ordnance Survey. Parker provides a potted history of this, going back to William Roy, and includes a discussion of his top and bottom five 1:50000 Landranger maps.

Mapping is often political. The 1884 Meridian Conference chose Greenwich as the Prime Meridian despite the best efforts of the French. The Dutch/Belgian town of Baarle is a well-known example of a complex border with convoluted enclaves. Parker also touches on British county boundaries and the history of Rutland, arguments over Mercator and Smith projections, cartographic caricature, Eurovision, and the external and internal borders of Northern Ireland.

Parker writes about medieval maps (where he has a distinctly old-fashioned "Dark Ages" view), paganism, ley lines and Milton Keynes, and about the Cerne giant, other erotic landscape features, and Gropecunt Lanes and other now sanitised placenames. He weighs in on the debate about gender and maps and the different abilities of men and women, and does some self-diagnosis in a look at the psychology of obsession. And he explains why he is unhappy with satellite navigation systems but enthused about the potential for digital mapping more generally.

All of this is held together by a mortar of personal history: a childhood which involved shoplifting maps and finding his way around Paris, a trip around Eastern Europe, a night on Cadair Idris, and so forth.

The result is a bit of a hodge-podge, with many chapters fairly clearly repurposed from stand-alone articles. But it's an entertaining read, from which I picked up not only some cartographic tidbits but much general background on British history and culture.

January 2010

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%T Map Addict
%S A Tale of Obsession, Fudge and the Ordnance Survey
%A Parker, Mike
%I Collins
%D 2009
%O hardcover, index
%G ISBN-13 9780007300846
%P 330pp