Review | Oxford Atlas of the World

Oxford Atlas of the World
(24th ed., New York: November, 2017),
pp. 448.  ISBN: 9780190843625  $89.95

For anyone not familiar with this Oxford world atlas, its publisher bills it as ‘the benchmark by which all other atlases are measured.’  It may well be.  It is, altogether, a handsome product, well-organized, thorough in its coverage, a graphic delight.  It’s also updated annually.  

Organized into seven sections, it is particularly user-friendly (I mean, particularly for us non-professionals), beginning with a ‘User Guide’ helpfully located just before the Table of Contents.  A section on ‘World Statistics’ follows, setting out area and population figures for every country, plus a listing of the world’s largest cities by population.  An in-depth six-page feature on ‘A Divided World:  Land and Maritime Boundaries’ follows, with succinct but comprehensive discussions of currents, salinity, carbon dioxide, waste material, acidification, dead zones and red tides, oil and other man-made stresses changing the world’s oceans faster than ever before.  

Our planet’s beauty comes through in the succeeding section of satellite images of seventeen of the world’s major cities, ‘Images of Earth,’  including Budapest, Dubai, Lagos, Melbourne, Montreal, and Las Vegas, all sourced from NASA’s Earth Observation Satellite, Landsat 8, launched in 2013.

The four sections of the coverage of individual countries begin with a ‘Gazetteer of Nations,’ a comprehensive A-Z reference providing concise profiles of every country’s geography, climate, history, politics, and economy.  As a career diplomat, I was especially impressed by the succinct coverage of the political history of particular countries, given in the ‘Gazetteer.’  Here, as always, Israel would be the litmus test — put simply, no one, but a irrational partisan, could fault the accuracy and even-handedness of this atlas’ few hundred words, though there ought to have been a corresponding entry for ‘Palestine.’  Similarly, I was impressed by the same even-handedness and accuracy provided for Ireland, another country long subject to geographic division and yearning (though I have more than a few Irish friends who would disagree).

Close up view of "Islands in the Atlantic". Source: Oxford World Atlas, 23rd Edition.

Close up view of “Islands in the Atlantic”. Source: Oxford World Atlas, 23rd Edition.

The second section, ‘Introduction to World Geography,’ comprises 48 pages of maps, charts, graphs, and diagrams explaining key themes about our world, including climate, food supply, energy, tourism and trade, with explanatory descriptions of the patterns shown by the data and with information on the newly launched United Nations Sustainable Development Goals appearing throughout the section; the third section, ‘World Cities,’ provides a selection of maps for several dozen urban centers around the world (for many cities, there are both a bird’s-eye view of the wider urban area and an in-close focus on the central area — I must add that these maps are particularly attractively drawn); and, finally, nearly 200 pages of the traditional presentation of the world’s countries, organized by regions, first the Oceans and then the Continents (a ready-reference key to the country maps is provided in the front end-papers).  Again, the distinctive Philip’s cartography is a delight to the eye.  The maps combine relief shading with layer-colored contours to provide a striking visual image, with roads, railroads, canals, and airports accurately depicted, alongside towns and cities.  The atlas concludes with an 86,000 name index.  

This is a truly welcome product, a delight to hold, a delight to use.



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