How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier

1005549Nonfiction — print. University of Chicago Press, 1996. Originally published 1991. 207 pgs. Received from PaperBackSwap.

Monmonier’s book is meant to teach readers how to evaluate maps critically through the promotion of a healthy skepticism about these easy-to-manipulate models of reality. To show how maps distort, Monmonier introduces basic principles of map-making (scale, projection, symbology) and gives examples of purposeful distortion for political and economic propaganda.

Some of the antidotes are particularly funny. Map publishers have been known to deliberately falsify their maps by adding what are known as “trap streets” to prevent copyright violations, but some have taken it even further. Monmonier provides the story of a 1979 Michigan state highway map that included two fake towns named “goblu” and “beatosu”, a reflection of the traditional football rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. But the focus on these gross misuses undermines Monmonier’s overall point. I would never insert two fake towns into a map, and it seems ridiculous that he would claim these “errors” are commonplace.

It seems that nearly every single geography professor I know suggests reading this book. Unfortunately, I think it has become rather dated given the importance of computer-based map-making. That’s not to say the principles don’t remain the same, but I just felt like the book was stuck in time.

The writing style is also particularly boring. I find map-making and cartography to be fascinating subjects, but I just could not get into this book. I ended up abandoning after the halfway point.


  1. My partner loves maps – we have at least one is each room of opur apartment. This Xmas I gave him this one - – and I think How to Lie with Maps would be right up his alley… in theory! Such and interesting subject, how could it be boring?! 😦


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