The Mapmakers: the Story of the Great Pioneers in Cartography-from Antiquity to the Space Age
- John Noble Wilford
- English (Published)
- English (Original Language)
- English (Unknown)
They are among the world's great pioneers and adventurers: the mapmakers who for centuries have been expanding our knowledge of who and where we are, and where we want to go. From the surprisingly accurate silk maps prepared by Chinese cartographers in the second century B.C., to medieval mapmakers who believed they had fixed the location of paradise, through to the expeditions of Columbus and Magellan, John Noble Wilford chronicles the exploits of the great pioneers of mapmaking. Wilford brings the story up to the present day as he shows the impact of new technologies that make it possible for cartographers to go where no one has been before, from the deepest reaches of the universe (where astronomers are mapping time as well as space) to the inside of the human brain. These modern-day mapmakers join the many earlier adventurers—including ancient Greek stargazers, Renaissance seafarers, and the explorers who mapped the American West—whose achievements shape this dramatic story of human inventiveness and limitless curiosity.
The Greco-Egyptian emperor Ptolemy III made a shrewd hire when, in about 240 B.C., he appointed a bookworm and poet named Eratosthenes to be the librarian of the great Alexandrian Museum. Eratosthenes, derided by his envious colleagues as a second-stringer, nursed an insatiable curiosity about the natural world. Acting on hunches and sailors' reports, he decided to conduct an experiment to measure the earth's circumference, which he eventually reckoned to be 46,000 kilometers--a little far off the actual mark of 40,000 kilometers but close enough that both Eratosthenes and Ptolemy entered history as founding fathers of the modern science of cartography.
In this vigorous history of maps and their creators, New York Times science writer John Noble Wilford recounts the accomplishments of dozens of cartographers from many cultures and times, among them Gerardus Mercator, Francis Beaufort, Charles Mason, and Jean Fernel. Ranging from ancient Chinese scrolls to the latest satellite images of distant planets, he renders a history full of "heroics and everyday routine, of personal and national rivalries, of influential mistakes and brilliant insights." He also reviews key scientific and technological advances that have accompanied the rise of modern maps, among them the development of fractal geometry, geosynchronous displays, remote sensing, and ever more accurate surveying instruments and techniques. --Gregory McNamee