How to Lie With Maps, Second Edition

Mark Monmonier

Read July 2006

This is a good survey book about the very basics of cartography. Monmoniner realizes that a book written with a positive slant would make for much less compelling reading, hence the title. There are times when this modality wears thin, but it also lets him expose some of the more egregious practices of, say, politicians without sounding at all preachy, even though under the good-fun exterior you can tell he rankles at the abuse of cartography.

Written for a non-expert audience, there's not much of depth nor does it hold many surprises to anyone who's thought about basic issues before, though it is nice to have it all written down in one place in an accessible fashion. The real gem in the book is Chapter 10, “Data Maps: Making Nonsense of the Census”, in which Monmonier works through progressively more subtle treatments of data, each misleading, some innocent and others malicious, until you begin to question all map abstractions entirely. A reader unfamiliar with aggregation and statistics, and too likely to trust demarcations by proclaimed experts (e.g., the red-state/blue-state maps from the 2000 US Elections, which have since famously and memorably been deconstructed in purple), this will be an eye-opener.

Thanks to Mark Henderson for pointing me to this book.