Maps of the Past... Books of Historical Maps and Geography

Become an armchair traveller and historian by exploring the world through the eyes of those that first charted it. Cartographers and writers of the past give us a fascinating insight into how the world was viewed in days long gone. In our historical maps and historical geography books, you can peek into the past with maps, logs, photographs and letters taken from various archives, plus commentaries by the top historians and researchers. Take a look through our best books on historical maps and geography to fully immerse yourself in the history of the world.

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1. Tales from the Captain's Log

The National Archives

This fascinating book brings together journals, letters and captain's logs from the National Archives to give an unusual insight into the biggest voyages and seafaring expeditions the world has ever seen. From tackling pirates to exploring new lands to fighting in the biggest battles, this book contains all manner of exciting true accounts of life at sea and acts a fascinating look into historical geography.

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2. The London County Council Damage Maps 1939-1945

London Metropolitan Archives and Laurence Ward

This unique glimpse into history focuses on the impact the bombings in the Second World War had on London and how they changed the urban landscapes forever. Featuring an introduction by Laurence Ward that outlines the historical context of the bombings, photographs of the city and tables showing the full extent of the damage, this is a comprehensive look into a shocking part of history.

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3. Maps That Changed the World

John O.E. Clark

John O.E. Clark has compiled a variety of important maps from over the centuries for this unusual history book. Starting with ancient maps and following right through to Harry Beck's London Underground map, this book traces the history of the world in all its geographical glory. Plus, John also includes maps of famous fictional settings, including Tolkien's Middle Earth and the lost city of Atlantis. Explore the world through an unusual lens with this fun historical map book.

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4. Britain's Tudor Maps

John Speed

Step into the shoes of a Tudor cartographer with this book featuring maps dating as far back as 1596. Britain's Tudor Maps is both a reproduction of John Speed's The Theatre of the Great Britiaine from 1611 and an excellent Tudor history book. This stunning map book features an introduction by Nigel Nicholson and commentaries on each map by Alasdiar Hawkyard to provide background on this fascinating part of British history.

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5. The Curious Map Book

Ashley Baynton-Williams

Cartographic researcher, Ashley Baynton-Williams, has brought together a variety of weird and wonderful maps from days gone by for this amusing historical map book. Maps have been produced for a whole range of purposes over the years and in this book Ashley has selected 100 curious maps from the British Library that have the strangest uses. His book features maps made for entertaining, including game maps and jigsaws and maps used for commemorating achievements, such as a map from a tankard celebrating the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Discover the strange side of historical geography with these curious maps.

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If you love exploring the history of the world, take a look through our books on historical maps and geography.

  • TFCL
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    From Captain James Cook's notes of his discovery of the South Pacific and Australia to archive logs, diaries and letters that cover naval battles including Trafalgar and Waterloo, this fantastically presented book provides a glimpse into history's greatest nautical voyages.

    From the National Archives, the commanders' journals cover everything from exploring unknown lands to engaging in war and general trade and provide breathtaking descriptions of all the incredible things these seafarers saw on their travels.

    Armchair historians will find accounts of attempts to stop piracy in the Caribbean, notes about newly discovered exotic plants and animals and medical reports of those who sailed. This keepsake book also features maps, drawings and facsimile documents that were found alongside the logs in the archives.
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    An ancient Chinese proverb suggests, "They are wise parents who give their children roots and wings - and a map." Maps That Changed the World features some of the world's most famous maps, stretching back to a time when cartography was in its infancy and the 'edge of the world' was a barrier to exploration. The book includes details of how the Lewis and Clark Expedition helped map the American West, and how the British mapped India and Australia. Included are the beautifully engraved Dutch maps of the 16th century; the sinister Utopian maps of the Nazis; the maps that presaged brilliant military campaigns; charted the geology of a nation; and the ones that divided a continent up between its European conquerors. Organised by theme, the book shows the evolution of map-making from all corners of the globe, from ancient clay maps, to cartographic breakthroughs such as Harry Beck's map of the London underground. There are also famous fictional maps, including the maps of the lost continent of Atlantis and Tolkien's Middle Earth. With an introduction written by acclaimed cartographic historian Jeremy Black.
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    The attack on London between 1939 and 1945 is one of the most significant events in the citys modern history, the impact of which can still be seen in its urban and social landscapes. As a key record of the attack, the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps represent destruction on a huge scale, recording buildings and streets reduced to smoke and rubble. The full set of maps is made up of 110 hand-coloured 1:2500. Ordnance Survey base sheets originally published in 1916 but updated by the LCC to 1940. Because they use the 1916 map, they give us a glimpse of a lost London, before post-war redevelopment schemes began to shape the modern city. The colouring applied to the maps records a scale of damage to Londons built environment during the war the most detailed and complete survey of destruction caused by the aerial bombardment. A clear and fascinating introduction by expert Laurence Ward sets the maps in the full historical context of the events that gave rise to them, supported by archival photographs and tables of often grim statistics.
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    Mapmaking has always been a serious business, whether surveying property limits, marking international boundaries or plotting lines of travel. Yet cartographers of all periods had a sense of humour, and mapmakers often used their artistic talents to create maps not for strictly geographical purposes but for the pleasure and entertainment of others. In this book, an expert cartographic researcher uncovers 100 curious, entertaining maps, drawn mainly from the unrivalled map collection in the British Library. Many of the maps depict countries in human or animal form, among them the famous 'Leo Belgicus' - the Low Countries in the shape of a lion. Many of the maps featured here were created for recreational play, with the secondary purpose of educating through enjoyment, including some of the very earliest cartographical game-maps, jigsaws, playing-card maps and even a jigsaw globe.With advances in printing techniques, publishers found they could affix maps to all manner of objects, often commemorative, such as the tankard celebrating Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805. There are also maps on cups and saucers, tea towels, umbrellas, scarves and commemorative medals. Through images of these maps and many more, this amusing and unusual book reveals the little-known playful side of mapmaking.
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    A stunning new edition of the earliest atlas of the British Isles. Britain's Tudor Maps: County by County reproduces the maps of John Speed's 1611 collection The Theatre of Great Britaine in large, easy-to-read format for the first time. Compiled from 1596, these richly detailed maps show each county of Great Britain individually and as they existed at the time, complete with a wealth of heraldic decoration, illustrations and royal portraits. With an introduction by the bestselling author Nigel Nicholson, each map is presented alongside a fascinating commentary by Alasdair Hawkyard, elaborating on both the topographical features and the social conditions of each county at the time, enabling an examination of how the physical and social landscape has been transformed over time.