Saturday, March 10, 2012


The Book: Maphead: Charting The Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

The Writer: Ken Jennings (Yep, that Ken Jennings. The one who lasted over 6 months on Jeopardy!)

The Dealio: Ken Jennings is a maphead, and he not only doesn't care who knows it, he is proud to be so labeled. Whether you care about maps and geography (My name is Susan and I am a maphead married to a maphead) or not, this book pulls you into the incredibly secretive, intriguingly complex world of the cartophiliac. My own mapheadedness takes a peculiarly mild form: I love maps, love looking at maps, admiring especially beautiful maps, no matter the subject. But, be so ill-advised as to put a Thomas's guide in my hand and ask me to navigate to the nearest park...and forget it. Might as well ask a one year old for driving directions. One famous statement my husband still trots out from time to time is my instruction to him to 'Turn up! We're going north, so turn up.' He actually had to pull the car over so he could regain control of the steering wheel, his laughter was so volcanic. None-the-less, I dove into this book with great zeal. Starting with the National Geographic Bee (hosted by none other than Alex Trebek), and moving swiftly, almost seamlessly, through the history of maps, map trading, geo-caching and the evolution and widespread use of GPS, this is a wonderful, well, road trip book. Chock full of personal anecdotes, history and science, but rendered in a smoothly engaging way, this is more than a dry throwback to elementary school. It is a celebration of all things map-related. And you will be surprised, I think, by just how many things actually ARE map-related.

The Grading Session: 4.61 pengies out of 5. A few debits for too many "NOTE:" entries. I have both the audio version and the text version (well, you would, wouldn't you, in a product called Maphead? Gotta see those map-ages). My one quibble with the audio version is that the reader- who, overall , is pretty good- mispronounces a number of fairly common words. But, as I said, this is a quibble- and a minor one at that.

Lessons Learned: Geography is not just maps. It encompasses things as diverse as politics, war, science, agriculture, history, seasons, astronomy, finance, religion, art and even music. Who knew? Oh. Right. Geographers.

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