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Map Use: Reading, Analysis and Interpretation

By [email protected] - 17th May 2017 - 16:49

Professional cartographers are skilled map users and producers. Essential cartographic skills are taught at universities in geography curriculums. Map Use: Reading, Analysis and Interpretation is meant to be used for such courses and gives an overview of how to read, analyse and interpret paper and digital maps. It is written in such a way that is also accessible for people without a formal education in geography and can also serve as a reference resource for professional cartographers.


The book has 22 chapters, two appendices, a glossary and an index. Each chapter is about 20 pages long and contains a list of selected readings. As is standard with all Esri Press titles, the contents are richly illustrated, in this case with nearly 600 full-colour maps, photographs and graphs that illustrate the concepts behind communicating with maps. For this new edition, a new chapter was added on (web) map design basics.

This is not just another academic book on cartography: in the preface, the authors explain they wanted a different approach to that of most academic and practical guides on this topic. The result is a book that is both academic and practical, describing the science behind common practices such as map scales, projections, position finding and navigation. It covers both modern and traditional cartography: the authors’ note that the ‘commercialization of all things cartographic’ will define how people will interact with maps in the future, which is why commercial cartographic products and services from various vendors are referenced throughout the book.

As the title suggests, Map Use is divided into three parts: map reading, map analysis and map interpretation. Part one, ‘Map Reading’, contains half the book´s pages and describes how mapmakers represent the environment in a map. Topics discussed are the geographic data that underpins a map, transforming that information through different mapping techniques, map design and accuracy. This part includes chapters on map scales, projections, grid coordinate systems and land partitioning.

Once you know how to read a map, you can use it to analyse spatial patterns and relationships in that same mapping environment. This is the topic of part two, ‘Map Analysis’, which describes several processes that can nowadays be carried out with GIS, such as spatial feature analysis, surface analysis and pattern analysis. Part three, ‘Map Interpretation’, emphasises environmental understanding and comprehension, as the surroundings are the real subject of map use.


Looking at the contents of the book, it´s easy to see why it has been in print for so long: it looks and feels like a proven reference resource for both cartography students and professionals. The book covers much theory and practice, showing how people created and used maps throughout history. A great plus are the coloured illustrations, as is the clear and readable style of the text, which make this book a joy to read. But this is not a history book per se, which is reflected in the (non-chronologic) structure chosen by the authors.

While the authors claim to have strictly separated map reading, analysis and interpretation, practice shows that they’re not always easy separate and often go hand in hand. In addition, it is not always a practical subdivision: an example is the inclusion of a new chapter on map design in ‘Map Reading’, even though map design precedes map reading, analysis and interpretation. Information is sometimes repeated unnecessarily, such as when discussing direction and position finding, two interrelated topics that are covered in separate chapters.

Although the book does a good job on incorporating modern digital cartographic software and services, the developments in this field follow each other so quickly that the next update will hopefully include topics such as 3D mapping software, indoor mapping technology and 3D modelling environments.

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