Review | Oxford Atlas of the World, 25th Edition

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Oxford Atlas of the World (New York: 25th ed., November 2018), pp. 448 ISBN: 9780190913038 $89.95

Oxford Atlas of the World (New York:  25thed., November 2018), pp. 448.  ISBN: 9780190913038  $89.95

The Oxford University Press bills its atlas as ‘the most authoritative on the market’ and the only world atlas ‘updated annually.’  OUP certainly does deliver on the second, updating not just statistical and political developments, but providing new features as well.  Since I reviewed the previous edition last year, this splendid product – ‘A delight to hold, a delight to use’ – has added, in its 25thedition, a new feature on Tourism and Travel and new maps on armed conflicts around the world, as well as a new map on Antarctica using the latest data from the British Antarctic Survey.

It is a model of user-friendly organization.  There is not just a User Guide tucked in before the Table of Contents, the endpapers also set out a colored-coded schema to the World Map and European Map pages and provide keys to the symbols used in the maps throughout the atlas.  A World Country Index is included as well on the back endpapers.  Organized into seven sections, over a hundred pages of facts and figures precede the atlas proper.  Two pages of World Statistics provide the basic data of size (in both square kilometers and square miles), population, capital city, annual income (in dollars), and principal cities for the countries of the world.  A Divided World: Land and Maritime Boundaries sets out, in four pages and in significant detail, consequential historical developments such as the breakdown of empires since 1945 or the transformation of Africa from colonial to independent or the successful Antarctic Treaty of 1959 freezing territorial claims to ensure scientific and environmental cooperation, considered a model of an international agreement.  In contrast, the map of the South China Sea, by setting out just how encroaching on the coastal waters of all of its southern neighbors China’s so-called ‘Nine-dash line’ actually is, demonstrates, far more vividly than television news images of one of the artificially built-up reefs China has been militarizing could ever do, just how aggressive China’s claims in this region are – it’s as though France were to claim as its own sovereign territory the entire western Mediterranean down to North Africa.  Finally, concluding the stage-setting sections, we are reminded of the beauty of our world in Images of Earth, eighteen pages of new breath-taking photographs from space, from Marseilles to Jerusalem to Santiago, Chile.

The four sections of coverage of individual countries begin with a Gazetteer of Nations, some thirty pages providing a comprehensive but concise reference guide to each country’s geography, climate, history, politics, and economy.  As a former career diplomat, I must say that this section’s accounts are a most impressive performance, particularly in light of their space limitations.  No one but an irrational partisan would quarrel with the accuracy and even-handedness of this section’s coverage of such politically contested nations as Ireland, Israel, and Macedonia (but was Lon Nol of Cambodia a Communist?).  An omnium gatherum section follows.  In World Geography, we are given twenty-one gloriously-illustrated mini-essays on such features as geology, the atmosphere and climate, biodiversity, oceans, energy, employment, or standards of living.  Here you’ll find the new feature on Tourism and Travel.  I found another new feature, Conflict and Co-operation, particularly illuminating.  Four global maps, with accompanying side-bar commentaries, set out the memberships of seemingly every relevant international organization from the United Nations to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  Two other global maps illustrate current conflict-caused deaths and the Global Peace Index (a dramatic demonstration of those areas of our world where conflicts truly dominate).  There follows a section of thirty-some pages of World Cities, providing directional and, in many cases, central-city street maps of some seventy cities around the world, from Amsterdam to Washington, D.C.

The atlas proper (some three hundred pages) is divided traditionally by continents, from Europe to South America, with an opening coverage of The World, a section constituting something of a gathering-in of territories otherwise awkward to categorize by place – here you’ll find the new map of Antarctica, as well as the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean and its islands, including Greenland and Iceland. Throughout, the maps combine relief shading with layer-colored contours to provide striking visual images, with roads, railroads, canals, and airports accurately depicted, alongside towns and cities.   As I noted last year, the distinctive Philip’s cartography is a delight to the eye.  The atlas concludes with a Geographical Glossary and an 86,000 name index.

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