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Winter 2008 Roundup: Coffee-Table Books

David Schoonmaker, Catherine Clabby, Fenella Saunders, Morgan Ryan, Anna Lena Phillips, Flora Taylor

The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live, by Daniel Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford
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If ever there was a time when we needed to understand the world on a global scale, it is now. Opportunities and troubles beyond any one country’s borders are closer than ever before. Swelling human populations, ease of international travel and the Internet’s distance-shrinking powers guarantee that this will continue to be the case. So do environmental threats on a scale never before encountered.

The Atlas of the Real World (Thames & Hudson, 2008, $50) is a pictorial primer on the similarities and differences between the world’s regions. Rather than merely telling, it shows what distinguishes a given place in scores of categories: wealth, natural resources, exports, health, scientific research, book authorship and more. The authors—British- and U.S.-based researchers Daniel Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford—have produced an abundance of cartograms: colorful maps that represent data by varying the sizes of their elements—in this case, world regions, including Central America, Southeast Asia, Central Africa and Europe. (Many samples of their approach can be viewed at no cost at www.worldmapper.org .)

It’s no surprise that when it comes to the export of toys, East Asia (which includes factory-rich China) balloons up to dominate much of the planet—or that in an adjacent panel, North America and Europe swell as large toy importers. The shapes of continents morph again when the topic is nuclear arsenals—the United States, Russia and Israel dwarf everyone else. In the cartogram showing the availability of sewerage systems, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg all come out on top. And another map reveals the huge proportion of the world’s prisoners jailed in the U.S.

Many categories of serious concern are covered here. But in a truly comprehensive “atlas,” more positive aspects of life in so-called developing countries would surely also be displayed: self-reliance skills, say, or artistic engagement or strength of family ties. Still, this book will improve your view of a planet that feels as though it grows smaller every day.—Catherine Clabby


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