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Prentice-Hall Great International Atlas (Simon & Schuster: $75; 166 pp.) : The Great World Atlas (American Map Corp.: $39.95; 351 pp.)

January 04, 1987| Norman J. W. Thrower | Thrower is a professor of geography at UCLA and director of UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. He has published widely on cartographic subjects and edited atlases for McGraw-Hill and other publishers. and

Nearly two decades ago Rand McNally and Co. of Chicago published "The International Atlas" in cooperation with other overseas commercial map companies especially several with European headquarters. Although basically a collection of general reference maps, "The International Atlas" contained a substantial introductory essay illustrated with thematic maps, tables, and ground and aerial photographs. Except for its use of four languages in certain parts of the text, "The International Atlas" could well have served as the model for the two atlases being reviewed.

Both the "Prentice-Hall Great International Atlas" and "The Great World Atlas" published by American Map Corp. are aimed at an affluent, largely English-speaking American market. But like their prototype they both owe a great deal to foreign, especially European cartographic skill. One is always wary of a product that proclaims itself as "great," but when two new atlases make the same claim they inevitably invite comparison. However, here the two atlases will be compared only after each of them has been evaluated individually.

The maps that form the body of the "Prentice-Hall Great International Atlas" are from the well-known English map publisher George Philip and Sons, Ltd. although in this case the work was printed in the United States. As a leading producer of educational cartographic material, the clear style of the Philip's maps have become familiar to generations of schoolchildren in the United Kingdom and overseas areas influenced by that country, where geography is an important subject taught at all levels. Place names, major political boundaries, and transportation lines (rail and road) are shown on a background of landforms with contours, shaded relief, hypsometric (altitude-measurement) tints and, over the water bodies, isobaths (depth-contour lines). This section of the atlas, consisting of 145 pages, is preceded by a slightly smaller amount of front material and illustrated text. As well as including the usual table of contents, the front material provides the reader with statistics on climate and population, instructions on how to use the atlas, and even a description of map-making and printing. The illustrated essay which follows attempts to cover with text, colored pictures and maps the course of man's conquest of the Earth from prehistoric times to the present, and the new physical geography. Emphasis is given to expanding civilizations and particularly to European overseas discovery, and Earth evolution. The introductory material is balanced at the end of this large volume by a signature of 30 thematic (mostly economic) world maps, country by country statistics, and also an extensive gazetteer or index of nearly 150 pages.

Proclaimed as "the first talking atlas," "The Great World Atlas," published by the American Map Corp., is accompanied by a tape recording which lauds the merits of the work and instructs the listener on its use. Again the body of the atlas is a series of general maps covering the world, the continents, and sections of these, including city plans of principal urban areas. In this case the cartography is the work of Verlagsgruppe Bertelsmann GmbH., as familiar to Germans as the Philip plates are to English and Commonwealth students. The German maps in "The Great World Atlas," have a precision that one expects from their country of origin. For these general maps shaded relief, hypsometric tints and a rich variety of other symbols are used. Isobaths are employed over the oceans and very generous numbers of place names are spread over both land and water. Major political boundaries are a usual feature of such maps as are roads and railroads, here all delineated with great clarity. Following a brief introduction and table of contents in "The Great World Atlas," some 30 pages are devoted to images of the Earth from space. These examples of remote sensing are explicated by useful descriptions of the selected areas. Thematic and statistical charts covering major physical and cultural topics occupy about 50 pages following the general maps, and before the index/gazetteer of some 125 pages. The volume was printed in West Germany.

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