National Geographic Atlas of the World, 11th Edition
“the pinnacle of what a well-designed, well-constructed, and information packed atlas should be.”
In this era of GPS driving directions and numerous map apps, there is still something very satisfying about pursuing an atlas—flipping between maps and observing the geospatial features of a region.
Of course, when thinking about a quality in-depth atlas, the first organization that comes to mind is the National Geographic Society, the gold standard for quality maps and atlases for over a century. Their maps have adorned schools, offices, and military outposts around the world as the basic reference for the region under study.
Continuing this tradition, the Society has just published the 11th edition of their world atlas, and to call this a magisterial volume is a significant understatement. First of all, this library quality and worthy book is massive, a genuine coffee table book that could be the coffee table, measuring in at an awesome 18 by 12 inches and nearly 10 pounds. It is heavily constructed to withstand years of page turning and finger pointing as readers look up a favorite location or take in the incredible maps.
In the front of the book are 20 plates that show different data sets of humans’ changing adaptations of the world, whether it’s global urbanization, changes to fresh water sources or biodiversity, or patterns of global migration and implementation of communications connectivity. These plates are extremely well done and combine geography, statistics, and data visualization to provide a striking amount of information. A source list of where all of this data was collated is provided at the back of the book for students or researchers wanting to dig deeper into a particular topic. These plates by themselves would have been a worthy volume, and they really set the stage for the rest of the atlas.
The rest of the global maps make use of innovative projection systems to give a better sense of the relative size of the countries and provide a more accurate view of a country, always a challenge when trying to represent a global picture on a flat page. The overlap and indexing of maps are also well done, with multiple views of countries available to show the borders of regions around the globe.
However, not merely content with mapping the earth, including the ocean floors and polar regions, this atlas also takes a tour of the solar system and larger universe. Stunning photo composite maps of the moon and Mars, combined with a information packed solar system and galaxy maps, again provide enough detail to fill their own atlas.
For those of us raised in the era of consulting atlases at the local library, this book really stands as the pinnacle of what a well designed, well constructed, and information packed atlas should be. While it weighs in at an equally whopping price tag, for anyone doing serious research that requires a reference atlas, it really offers so much more physical enjoyment as well as information than merely clicking through a geospatial app.