Oxford Atlas of the World, 17th Edition (Book Review)


Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press
What a Fascinating Planet!
Maybe it's my geeky side, but I've always liked encyclopedias and atlases. When I was younger, I spent hours looking for one thing but reading about 15 others things on the way there (kind of what Wikipedia makes people do now, with all those tempting links sprinkled in each entry), so I was happy to be offered a review copy of the 17th edition of the Oxford Atlas of the World. But this large and high-quality book isn't just a dry compilation of maps, it also provides an overview of many important topics like global food production, energy production, the atmosphere and climate change, how the oceans work, etc. A lot of it is illustrated with satellite photos and graphs to supplement the traditional maps. See for yourself in the photos below.
Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press

The format of the book is large (14.6 x 11.4 x 1.5 inches, according to Amazon.com), which is perfect for the large maps and photos, but a bit hard on the arms if you're trying to read in bed, and it's definitely too big to carry around to read in the bus or subway. I've found that the perfect use of this Atlas is as a coffee table book that you can browse randomly to discover things about the world that you didn't know about, or use it as a reference book (my wife recently asked a few questions about Europe, and nothing was easier than to open the Atlas to the "Europe" section and show her).


Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press

The sections on topics like global food production, energy, biodiversity, geology, climate change, etc, are illuminating but are only introductions. I'd have loved them as a kid, but they are a bit light if you already know a lot about these topics.

But the most interesting part isn't the text, it's the maps. For example, I thought the maps showing the addition of cities bigger than 1 million in population over the last century was very interesting, as was the one showing all the main currents in the oceans. One map taken alone is interesting, but once you've gone through all of them, they add up to more than the sum of their parts and help increase your understanding of our small planet. I love this kind of multidisciplinary approach, and it's a great way to make people environmentally aware.


Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press

Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press

Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press

Photo taken by Michael Graham Richard, used with permission of Oxford University Press
Last Words
In general, I would recommend this books to people who are curious about our world and are looking for a good coffee table book. It's a great conversation-starter when you have guests (if they are interested by that kind of stuff, that is), and if you have kids, this book could be a great learning experience.

The Oxford Atlas of the World is available on the O.U.P. site.

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