MapCarte 147/365: Earth by Millennium House, 2008-2012

MapCarte147_earth1There are general reference atlases and there are general reference atlases. Then there is the Earth atlas series by Millennium House. Formed in 2005, the specialist book publisher set out to become major players in the atlas publishing market by producing what they referred to then as the world’s largest atlas.

Earth Blue was produced by over 100 cartographers, oceanographers and geographers worldwide and contains 355 maps covering 194 countries. The cartography is classy but it’s the overall effect of combining the maps with extensive text of each country, over 800 beautiful images of the world and stunning 6 foot long gatefolds that makes the atlas a stand-out product. That…and the size. At 2ft by 1.5 ft this is no small book and the sheer size and weight of the tome make it a significant piece of work that reflects the scope of the effort that went into its design, compilation and production. The hand-bound leather covers, gilded pages, signed certificates of authenticity and limited edition numbering make these atlases a genuine collector’s item. There are two editions – Royal blue (2,000 copies) and Imperial Gold (1,000 copies).

MapCarte147_earth2 MapCarte147_earth3

The only problem with Earh Blue is that it wasn’t actually the world’s largest atlas…that title went to the Klencke Atlas published in 1660. So Millennium House stepped up their game and produced Earth Platinum. Each of the strictly limited 31 copies weighs 330 lbs and measures 6ft by 9ft. It is, genuinely, the world’s largest atlas as of 2012. The book contains 128 pages and all of the exquisite information, cartography and imagery found in Earth Blue but on a whole different scale and with the inclusion of Gigapixel imagery.


This is cartography on a grand scale and it’s the sheer detail and size of the project and product that makes this work stand-out. In an age of digital publishing it’s a brave decision to enter atlas print publishing at the high end of the market but the Earth atlases are remarkable cartographic products.


MapCarte 133/365: The Times Atlas of the World by The Times 1895-present

MapCarte133_timesExtract from the Times Atlas 2nd Edition, 1920

World reference atlases were once revered for their quality, consistency and magnificence as publications. No self-respecting household would lack a decent atlas. The ability to have a world atlas on your cellphone or tablet is certainly challenging the publishing model for such atlases but there is some way to go before the print atlas is consigned to history.

The Times Atlas of the World (latterly with the addition of Comprehensive Edition) was first published in 1895 and is currently in its 13th Edition.  Originally containing 117 pages and over 130,000 names it has grown to a 544 page publication with 125 map plates and over 220,000 indexed names and is marketed as The Greatest Book on Earth. It claims to be the benchmark of cartographic excellence and that’s some claim – though entirely fitting for such a well research work that exhibits well crafted, refined cartography. The 2nd Edition began a long association with Bartholomews as suppliers of the maps in the atlas and represents some of the richest and magnificent maps out of all the editions.


The 10th Edition, published in 1999, was the first to be produced entirely using computer cartography but until that time much of the map drawing was by hand. Unsurpassed global coverage of the world’s physical and political features in a single volume, the atlas is both prestigious and authoritative.  It has a classic style and traditional appearance and is meticulously presented.  Crucially, the intricate design has stood the test of time and the maps are beautifully laid out, easy to read and fascinating. Every aspect of cartographic design is executed to a high standard – composition and layout, colour and typography, balance, hierarchy, contrast and symbology.

In an age of querying the internet for answers, when questions of authority and accuracy remain, the Times Atlas is unparalleled and remains a reference publication of the highest quality.

You can view hi-resolution contents of two of the older Times atlases at the David Rumsey Map Collection including the focus here: the 1920 2nd Edition.

1895 1st Edition is an English version of the German ‘Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas’ from the publisher Velhagen & Klasing.

1920 2nd Edition containing maps by Bartholomews

The current version is available via the Times atlas web site here.

MapCarte 130/365: Atlas of Disease Distributions by Andrew Cliff and Peter Haggett, 1988

MapCarte130_disease1Sometimes a subject warrants more than a single or a few maps to flesh out the thesis. If you’re area of expertise is in the academic study of a narrowly defined interest then you are also entitled to go into considerable depth on a topic of study and also in how you bring it to the attention of a wider audience. Cliff and Haggett are renowned for their meticulously detailed works on a range of topics loosely described by the field of medical geography. They are interested in spatial epidemiology and the way in which geography plays a part in human disease distribution and transmission. They have published numerous reference works but their atlas of disease distributions: analytical approaches to epidemiological data, stands above them all.



The approach in the atlas is to provide a detailed and thorough exposition of the way in which human disease affects us as individuals and populations; how it moves and spreads and how environmental circumstance, lifestyle and behaviour all play a part in creating a unique geographical dimension. This is rich, detailed work. It’s authoritative and backed up by rigorous scientific study. Each page is filled with carefully worded explanation and lavishly illustrated with copious graphs, tables and maps. Individually, each is well crafted and adds to the wide-ranging study. The work incorporated a range of other sources of information in addition to the author’s own work in studying disease in Iceland including newspaper clippings, statistical summaries and equations that have defined the state-of-the-art of statistical disease mapping.



This atlas represents a monumental accomplishment of academic study and presentation. It was unashamedly methodological and not only illustrated results but explained how they were arrived at using classic outbreaks of measles, influenza and cholera as examples. Very rarely do we see such detail on a single topic spread throughout such a large volume and the atlas still remains perhaps the single best book of approaches to a rigourous and mapped analysis of epidemic disease. Cliff and Hagget’s work is an illustration of clear and rational scientific thought, illustrated in an accomplished style for both the scientific and also the lay reader.

MapCarte 120/365: Environment and health atlas by Imperial College London, 2014

MapCarte120_sahsuClick the image to go to the atlas web site

Mapping health and disease is often fraught with difficulties. Data is often aggregated to a resolution that doesn’t really provide much insight; is lacking a temporal dimension that is important to identify trends; or is not able to be published due to patient confidentiality issues. What we tend to see are over-generalised maps or snap-shots of a partial story that then get misconstrued in terms of what they might reveal, or which paradoxically seek to infer some outcome that the data might not support.

The Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London has been researching patterns of health and disease for several decades. As a research grouped backed by the UK Medical Research Council and Public Health England they have unique access to detailed health data both at a fine resolution and across multiple years which they have been researching to better understand patterns of health and disease. The ability to publish the results of research is often restricted to scientific papers but this new atlas for the first time brings to life much of their effort in this area of scientific endeavor for the public and policy makers.


Kidney disease, an example atlas page. Click image to view online.

The atlas is the result not only of the 20+ years of research that has gone into understanding patterns of health and disease but also the 7 years it has taken to bring it to light as a publication. Navigating the complexities of working with this type of data and producing a worthwhile publication are not inconsiderable. This is a significant and monumental achievement. It combines data from many different sources over many years and the maps are not only well designed thematics but represent considerable analytical work in their production. This isn’t just mapping numbers, it’s analysing vast amounts of information in a statistically rigorous fashion and preparing maps that summarize the results succinctly. They are authoritative and are exemplars in treading that fine line between ensuring data privacy while revealing worthwhile information.

Many of the maps deal with hugely sensitive topics but they do so in a mature and considerate fashion. The online atlas is clean, modern and allows people to access the work through an efficient, unencumbered user interface. Each map allows users to view female or male patterns, to zoom in, rollover to see administrative boundaries and labels and to click to reveal detailed graphs. So many elements of the maps are linked. As you move across the map, the graph updates, there is a simple statment of above or below averahe that updates and even the legend brings the class into focus. These are all small but very effective controls that give the work a cartographic polish. The side panel is reserved for interpretative text and further information – critical to ensuring that the map’s message is not taken out of context. There’s even a set of risk factors to enable viewers to understand patterns in a socio-economic context and a glossary that explains medical and statistical terms clearly. This sort of attention to detail is too often missing from modern maps.

Making this work freely and openly available in map form is a triumph and sets the standard for online atlases of health for years to come. In many ways the online version may well cannibalize the potential sales market of the print version, itself a beautifully constructed print atlas but that alone is testament to the prime motive of this work. It’s data about the public, mapped for the public. The work has gained many plaudits and rightfully so.

MapCarte 117/365: Atlas of Global Geography by Erwin Raisz, 1944

MapCarte117_raiszOne of the twentieth centuries foremost cartographers, Erwin Raisz was born in Hungary but emigrated to the US in 1923 and spent much of his professional career teaching cartography and curating the map collection at Harvard University. He was a prolific map-maker who produced thousands of maps comprising mainly of landform drawings. His style supported the easy interpretation of landform features “combining a scientist’s fascination with geomorphology with an artist’s drawing ability”


Rasiz’s maps were accurate, elegant and brought considerable aesthetic appeal to the depiction of the physical world in map form. His style was unique and his work was almost entirely pen and ink. More than his landform maps, Raisz published a seminal text on ‘General Cartography’ and introduced block-pile maps, created the orthoapsidal projection and value-by-area cartograms. His 1944 atlas showcased many of these techniques in a beautiful work. Each page of the atlas is a piece of art in its own right and shows how a cartographer should work in treating each theme as a unique challenge. While an atlas should be consistent, the consistency here comes in the quality and the variation of technique applied perfectly to each theme. The pages all look different yet they match in style and encourage exploration as each turn of the page brings a new visual delight.

The limits in colour printing meant the colour palette was at first glance very restrictive. However, this leads to a more consistent appearance with the same colours used across all maps and the thematic maps being predominantly two-colour. Such limitations also give the cartographer a strict set of constraints that focuses their design to optimize the pallete at their disposal. In short – technical constraints often bring out better work because quite simply it forces the cartographer to think and think inventively to take advantage.


Raisz spent much of his life educating people in the art and craft of cartography. In later life he experimented with the use of aerial photography in cartography but was skeptical about the use of computers to produce maps. His views were based on an impression that computers would remove the realism that a cartographer can bring to their work and that maps could end up being produced by technicians with little interest in geography or cartography.


Raisz died in 1968. Nearly 50 years on one could be forgiven for thinking he may have had a point but we can reflect on his work as a way to inform new work and bring some of his flair and technique to new map-making endeavors.

You can explore some of Raisz;s work here and also see high resolution zoomable version of pages of this atlas on David Rumsey’s site here.

MapCarte 112/365: Atlas of Oregon 2ed by William G. Loy, Stuart Allan, Aileen Buckley and Jim Meachem 2001

MapCarte112_oregon_coverDescribed as a ‘tour-de-force in cartography and design’ by Allen Carroll, former Chief Cartographer at National Geographic Society and one of Edward Tufte’s favourite atlases for its clear design, this atlas provides a detailed exposition of the physical and human geography of Oregon in the United States. It contains 320 pages each beautifully depicting a wide range of fascinating information across some 700 maps and accompanying graphs and commentary.


The atlas contains rich information graphics and, in particular, the thematics are well produced with a strong figure-ground relationship that allows the detail to literally jump off the page. The statistical map pages are detailed and clear. The colours throughout show a clear lineage to co-author Stuart Allan’s Raven Maps.


The atlas has rightly won a number of awards and plaudits for it’s state-of-the-art design and production. A richer set of maps that demonstrate the very clearest cartography you’ll struggle to find. An atlas should present a place in detail but making an atlas a work of art brings another dimension to the work and encourages people to explore and keep coming back for more.

MapCarte 110/365: Vinex Atlas by Jelte Boeijenga and Jeroen Mensink, 2008

MapCarte110_vinexcoverAn atlas is simply a compendium of maps. We normally see such collections comprise maps of the world and so the world atlas is perhaps the most common form. Of course, an atlas can be about any related theme and this example from 010 Publishers showcases the approach beautifully. The maps are of a related theme and the design of the atlas pages is consistent throughout – the key to a great atlas.

A report In the 1990s published by the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment outlined a project referred to by its Dutch acroym ‘Vinex’. Hundreds of thousands of houses were constructed under the proposals which became known as Vinex districts. In planning terms the policy has been heavily debated and criticised. This atlas provides a detailed visual, spatial and statistical account describing all 52 Vinex districts. The atlas includes a thorough essay on the programme and then illustrates the districts with detailed maps, plans, graphs, aerial photographs and photographs.


The atlas has a very distinctive appearance being predominantly black and white with muted colours across the maps and flashes of yellow used to provide accents throughout. The ink to paper ratio is consistent which gives each page a very similar look and feel. The relatively high proportion of white space is used effectively to give each map and graph space to breath and contribute to the overall composition. The graphics are bold and crisp.


Designed by the Joost Grootens studio and published by 010, it’s an exceptional example of designing information-based graphics with detail being brought to focus with clear structure and precise depiction. The atlas won the 2009 ‘best book design from all over the world’, beating 700 other entries to the gold medal.

More page spreads can be viewed at the Joost Grootens web site here.


MapCarte 89/365: World Geo-Graphic Atlas by Herbert Bayer, 1953

MapCarte89_bayer2There’s something quite timeless about an atlas. A compendium of maps that are designed to show something of the geography, conditions of life, peoples and nations so that we may better understand the world around us. That’s not to say that atlases are all similarly designed and many take on a quite mechanistic, almost sterile approach to each map page. This example, however, exemplifies all that is good about making a book of maps. The World Geo-Graphic Atlas was commissioned as a privately printed atlas by the Container Corporation of America. It’s rare and rarely seen which is a shame since it is a masterpiece of cartographic design. The Corporation had already produced a previous atlas that was much in demand and believed companies “may occasionally step outside of its recognized field of operations in an effort to contribute modestly to the realms of education and good taste.” The atlas mirrored the principles of design and visualization in its products, offices, factories and advertising.


Renowned graphic designer Herbert Bayer oversaw the production of thousands of images, drawings and maps to make each double-page spread unique, individually suited to the theme and a work of art in their own right. Bayer brought a sense of precision to match the beauty of his work all in his usual collage-Bauhaus style. The hyphen in the atlas title was deliberate given the work was as much about graphics as it was about geo-graphics. Bayer, of course, was widely known for his work in a range of other artistic endeavors as a painter, photographer, sculptor, interior designer and architect. His graphic design showcases a reductive minimalist approach with a crisp visual style and Sans Serif typefaces. This atlas illustrates his approach perfectly and contains a fantastic mix of maps that use projections to perfection, contain a good balance of content and where each page is considered as a whole.

The following short video by Nate Burgos ( explores a little of the beauty of the atlas

The atlas can also be viewed in hi-res detail at the David Rumsey map collection site here.

MapCarte 86/365: Everything Sings by Denis Wood, 2010


Cartographers are very much used to making maps of human and physical features in a landscape. They are also very good at communicating statistical data through thematics. Here, though, cartographer Denis Wood challenges us to consider maps as emotional, personal and, even, idiosyncratic devices. Everything Sings is an atlas but not in the traditional sense. It’s filled with fascinating images that reflect Wood’s mapping of Boylan Heights in North Carolina US during the early 1980s. These maps are designed to offer a narrative that conveys experience of a place as he sees it. it’s a very personal cartography of the sometimes mundane, unique and bizarre fabric.

Here, two images represent the work in the atlas. The first is a map of all the jack-o-lanterns he saw around Halloween. A pitch black background with the images of the carved faces representing location of that particular lantern. The faces illuminate through the darkness reflecting the sense of Halloween. The second, of concentric circles representing the location of wind chimes but with symbology that gives us a strong sense of their audible character. other maps are of stars as seen up through treetops or light pools of illumination from street lamps.


This collection of maps conveys a sense of place, of a very personal geography, like no ordinary atlas can. They are intimate information graphics that are as detached from objective cartography as is possible. They are art. They are poetic. They are an antagonist to the traditional practice of cartography.  In one review, Ira Glass notes “These maps are completely unnecessary. The world didn’t ask for them. They aid no navigation or civic-minded purpose. They’re just for pleasure.”. What Wood’s maps do so successfully is teach us that cartography can be practised in many different ways and that the world can also be seen in many different ways.

More details of the atlas on Denis Wood’s web site here.

MapCarte 83/365: Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky, 2009

MapCarte83_schalanskyMore often than not cartographers remain detached from the subject of their work. They are merely the mechanism to turn someone else’s science into art. A great map requires both domain knowledge and the means to impart that knowledge graphically. Often that requires collaboration but here, Judith Schalansky drew upon her childhood to imagine this superb atlas.

Growing up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, Schalanksy could only dream of travel and imagined far-off lands by pouring over the pages of an atlas. It’s how many of us gain our own wonderment, love of geography and appetite to explore. Later, she returned to atlases as a way of exploring the world and found a rich seam of places that deserved their own atlas. Her atlas of fifty islands she has not, nor is ever likely to, visit is a look at some of our more obscure places.

Schalansky studied as an art historian and trained as a graphic designer and this atlas showcases the skills with great effect and which won the 2009 German Arts Foundation ‘most beautiful book of the year’.


The 50 islands each has a double spread, with basic detail such as a grid reference, size, name, national ‘owner’, distance from other islands and coasts and a timeline of its discovery. Alongside is a semi-fictional description which reads more like a poem telling a story from the island’s past. This isn’t a cutesy book full of idyllic paradise lost – the descriptions tell of rape, cannibalism, human-rights abuse, atom bomb testing and ecological disaster. The maps are sparse, each settled in a blue-grey sea as if they are marooned. Cartographers are often taught to use the full page extent but here, there’s a lot of ‘white’ space. This adds to the drama of these isolated outcrops and shows how breaking a few cartographic rules every now and then can work wonders. The land is subtly rendered in greys with some black linework and also a bright orange for roads that matches the fore-edge of the atlas to tie the maps to the book’s overall design. Hill shading gives the islands depth and moire ripples show summits and steeper slopes. The maps are deprived of content but they sit beautifully.

Atlases work well if they have a consistent and coherent style and content. This is an exceptional example that pulls all the graphic elements together in a beautiful work that invites ‘finger-walking’ of the map…and which brings together poetry and cartography into a work of literature in its own right.