Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: The Atlas of the Real World

The Atlas of the Real World--mapping the way we live
Daniel Dorling

This book will truly change the way you look at the world. Compiled by a geographer and a physicist, this psychedelic collection of 366 maps--one for each day of the year, I guess--distort the world map to show trends.

Major topics include:
  • The Resourceful World--Land Area and Population; Travel and Transport; Natural Resources and Energy
  • The Trading World--Globalization and Internationalism; Food and Consumables; Minerals, Natural Products and Petrochemicals
  • The Economic World--Manufactured Goods and Services; Wealth and Poverty; Employment and Productivity
  • The Social World--Housing and Education; Communication and Media; Health and Illness
  • The Perilous World--Death and Disaster; War and Crime
  • The Environmental World--Pollution and Depletion; Extinction and Endangerment
But these topics don't really do justice to this extraordinary book. Specific topics include:
  • Increase in Piped Water (map 352)--where China dominates
  • Reptiles at Risk (of extinction) (map 362)--where the Caribbean dominates
  • Televisions in Use (map 245)
  • Housing Prices (accounting for local purchasing power) (map 208)
  • Films Watched (in theaters) (map 251)--dominated by India, with nearly 40% of the worldwide total.
  • and of course, Books Borrowed (from libraries) (map 250)
Some of the most interesting maps are simply the historic population maps, highlighting the years 1, 1500, 1900, 1960, and projections for 2050 and 2300.

Some of the most distorted maps include net income or loss from tourism and also the location of container ship ports and the country of registration of cargo ships.

This book could be shelved in the art section as well, thanks to the variety of colors and of course, the psychedelic maps. I think the lesson of this atlas is that there is more than one way of looking at the world. Isn't that what all great art teaches? And how is that for a New Year’s resolution—practice looking for other perspectives!

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