Friday, April 26, 2013


I love maps. I have a large collection of paper maps sitting around the house. Bike maps, transit maps, National Geographic maps and more. My dream job was to work at Google Maps. (When my interviewers there turned out to be in the internal tools department, rather than maps, I decided to look elsewhere.) I would often go on long bike rides just so I could come home and spend hours staring at the map, trying to figure out where I went.

Maphead seemed like the book for me and it didn't disappoint. Ken "Jeopardy champion" Jennings starts with a pretty straightforward story of maps and the people that love them. Paper maps have that allure that you still can't get from online mapping programs. We also get a history of maps with many anecdotes and bits of trivia thrown in.

Then the book starts to venture out towards other types of "geography geeks". We get the academic geographers (who often disparage "mere maps"). We also get the (mostly male Indian) kids in the geography bee. There are people who spend hours following a "trail" on a map, geocachers, fantasy mappers and other "geography obsessed". (We have people that visit the highest point in every state, integer latitude/longitudes, 100s of countries and so forth.) Some people are even obsessed with taking pictures of all highway signs. He even uses the book as an excuse to visit Rand McNalley headquarters in Skokie. (That was another place I would have liked to work. I'm surprised he didn't head out to Delorme in Maine.)

The writing is entertaining, and the subject matter is both nostalgic and informative. Am I an oddball who loves maps, but does not have great spacial skills? What will things be like when the GPS generation grows up? (Could we control the world just by hacking GPS navigation devices.) To most people, a "GPS" tells you how to get some place, but for me it is always something that can tell you where you've been. A glance at the map it how you know where to go. Am I a maphead too?

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