Book Review: New Views

New Views:  The World Mapped Like Never Before, by Alastair Bonnett

Part of this book was deeply enjoyable, as I am someone who likes reading atlases [1], but part of this book was somewhat irritating as well.  As someone who greatly enjoys geography, it is pretty easy to notice when someone is attempting a political angle that I disagree with, and that was certainly the case here.  The author checks of all of the boxes for someone whose leftist mindset is not compatible with my own, and the stridently political tone of the commentary on the maps gives the author’s worldview a feel that is less friendly than it could have been.  The author need not have been so heavy-handed; it would have been very possible for the author to have chosen maps to illustrate his ideas but go a bit easy when it comes to the heavy-handed rhetoric, but no, it is asking too much to expect some restraint.  It often seems as if people do not realize the need to appeal to those who do not agree with their worldviews and their assumptions and presuppositions, and so one gets books where someone is obviously a talented geographer but also not someone whose writing is enjoyable to me.

This book is about 200 pages long or so and contains fifty maps, some of which I was familiar with, belying the book’s claim to map the world like never before.  The maps are divided into several categories.  The first is land, air, and sea, which includes environmentally friendly looks at rubbish in the oceans, water stress, vulnerability to disasters, and undersea cables as well as unknown oceanic territory that has not been deeply explored.  After that there are some maps on humans and animals, including obesity, ecological footprint, electric lights at night (called the “black marble”), and obeseity.  After that there are some maps on globalization, including the flow of people, critically endangered languages, as well as the world nut trade and edible insects.  Some of the maps are at least quirky, but in general  the author squanders whatever goodwill he creates in terms of making maps that have some enjoyment value by writing particularly strident and leftist interpretations of said maps.  The author revels in the fact that everything is political these days, but errs by assuming that his viewpoint is one that his readers wish to endorse or support.

Even so, this book is not completely worthless.  As a geographer, the author deliberately avoids the Mercator projection but misses the chance to be even quirkier than he is by failing to use the Armadillo projection, a compromise between equal area and correct shape approaches.  Some of the maps chosen are particularly humorous, and that improves the book at least a little bit.  If you are not the sort of person who agrees with the worldview and perspective of the author, it would probably be best for you to enjoy the maps, note what sort of oddities you can find there–it is particularly disappointing that the author focuses on national boundaries rather than exposing regional differences that would have added more nuance and meaning to the maps–and then skim the text because it does not say a great deal that is worth remembering or even noting.  The author’s fixation with politics makes this a less enjoyable book than it could have been otherwise, but knowing a bit about the author’s work, it seems unlikely that he could have made any other type of work, since everything I have ever seen of his is of a particularly unfortunately political turn.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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