cover image Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

Ken Jennings. Scribner, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4391-6717-5

Maps reveal not just the lay of the land but the imagination of the beholder, according to this charming investigation of the allure of geography. Jeopardy! phenom Jennings (who recently returned to play against IBM's computer, Watson) surveys all manner of charts, from rudimentary animal maps%E2%80%94ants, he notes, navigate by counting their paces, a fact discovered when entomologists had them walk on stilts%E2%80%94to augmented reality maps that let you revise the world. But his main interest is the humans who pore over maps. They are a colorful lot: preteen National Geographic Bee contestants who spend seven hours a day studying atlases; hobbyists intent on visiting every state's maximum elevation; and Tolkienesque fantasists who condense whole imaginary civilizations into a map. Jennings (Brainiac), who admits to being "a geography wonk" himself, is their bard, and his enthusiasm for everything from bizarre and off-color place names to the mystic intersection points of lines of latitude and longitude is infectious. He's also alive to the larger meaning of maps as they overlay knowledge, desire, and aspiration onto the mute reality of terrain. The result is a delightful mix of lore and reportage that illuminates the longing to know where we are. Illus. (Sept.)