Monday, August 23, 2004

Review - How to Lie with Maps

How to Lie with MapsHow to Lie with Maps
by Mark Monmonier

3 out of 5 stars

Any book that calls itself, "How to Lie with…" is simply begging for a reviewer to compare it to, "How to Lie with Statistics." The latter is a classic that is fun and educational. Unfortunately, this book falls short of deserving the title but it is still an interesting read. One of the main problems is that rather than being a guide to help avoid being fooled by maps, the author uses the book as an introduction to the science of cartography. It seems that a large portion of the book is aimed towards the prospective mapmaker. I found these parts to be a bit difficult to get through. Also, there are very few real life examples in the book. I would have liked to see more examples from newspapers or magazines in place of the samples the author provides. Some of the few real life examples are from Nazi Germany and the USSR and seem very dated.

That was the bad side but there are many good points to the book. The chapter on development maps was very interesting (although the attempts at humor are wasted) and should be required reading for anyone who is serving on a zoning board. Also, the discussion of choropleth maps is excellent and the reader will come away with a clear understanding of how these maps can be abused either deliberately or accidentally by the cartographer. The author shows examples of very different choropleth maps using the same data that will make you skeptical of anyone who uses choropleth maps to prove a point.

Although parts of the book drag, the book is short at 150 pages so it is a relatively quick read. I wouldn't say that it is required reading, but it will help you maintain a healthy skepticism about maps that you might encounter.

This earned 3 stars on Amazon. The book is published by University of Chicago Press.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.


Map said...


I remember, when I first saw World maps here, I was surprised how big the USSR looked compared to the rest of the Eurasian continent. Then I read somewhere that it isn't possible to adequately convey all the information on 2D maps, something always will be distorted. Still don't know if the Soviets had chosen to make the country look modest (for whatever reason), or it was a Western choice to make the USSR look more fearsome.

Jim said...

> but it will help you maintain a healthy skepticism about maps that you might encounter

Always a good idea, eh? ;)

Map - so what sort of projection did they use in the USSR? Mercator has its flaws, like any other system will - but it seems a reasonable default. Especially if you're navigating across an ocean or something.

Map said...

> Map - so what sort of projection did they use in the USSR?

This was the first time I met the term "Mercator", but it gave me a starting point to Google out. Thanks, Jim... :) After some research, I
found references to Mollweide, Eckert IV, and Goode map projection. According to this page, what they used for school maps depended on scale, for world maps it was the polyconic projection. Still not sure what kind of distortions it introduced, plus sometimes it was referred to as "modified polyconic projection"...

sexy said...