THE WORLD OF GERARD MERCATOR: The Mapmaker Who Revolutionized Geography

Andrew Taylor, Author . Walker $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1377-3

Maps today strike us as fairly innocuous charts of the world. But 500 years ago, an era when political power and religious authority were in flux, maps were fraught with implications that made owning the "wrong" map a cause for execution. Into this world came Flemish mapmaker Gerard Mercator (1512–1594), whose new technique forged modern cartography as we know it. Mercator devised an ingenious compromise between accurately depicting the varying lengths of latitudinal circles between the poles and the equator and accurately depicting geographic details that is the basis for nearly all maps in use today. British historian Taylor (God's Fugitive ) neatly surveys Mercator's invention along with the rest of his professional career, while delving into hardships caused by the Inquisition, which arrested him on suspicions of Lutheran heresy, and the bubonic plague, which touched his family. The background material on 16th-century exploration and European politics is effectively presented, helping readers to understand how Mercator was able to successfully navigate a web of political intrigues. Taylor also discusses modern attempts to "correct" various distortions in the comparative sizes of major land masses. This occasionally lively chronicle should appeal to a core audience of history and geography buffs. 40 b&w illus. and 7 maps. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Hardcover - 291 pages - 978-0-00-710080-4
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