History of the World In Twelve Maps

February 17, 2018

Jerry Brotton’s “History of the World in Twelve Maps“ is an incredibly well-researched and beautifully written homage to the power of image to influence one’s view of the world.

He covers Ptolemy, Al-Idrisi, the Hereford Mappamundi, the Kangnido Map, Martin Waldseemuller’s World Map (the one that names America), Diogo Ribeiro, Mercator, Joan Blaeu, the Cassini Family, Halford Mackinder, Arno Peters, and Google Earth.  Each chapter is a detailed history of the zeitgeist of the time period, and examines the philosophical, intellectual and political uses and abuses to which contemporary maps were put.

From the introduction:

Throughout most recorded history, the overwhelming majority of maps put the culture that produced them at their centre, as many of the world maps discussed in this book show.  Even today;s online mapping is partly driven by the user’s desire to first locate him- or herself on the digital map … But if such a perspective literally centres individuals, it also elevates them like gods, inviting them to take flight and look down upon the earth from a divine viewpoint, surveying the whole world in one look, calmly detached, gazing upon what can only be imagined by earthbound mortals.  The map’s dissimulating brilliance is to make the viewer believe, just for a  moment, that such a perspective is real, that they are not still tethered to the earth, looking at a map.”

An excellent and stimulating study that I thoroughly recommend.

Earliest known world map: Iraq 700-500 BC

Earliest known world map: Iraq 700-500 BC


The Great Fire of Vancouver

June 13, 2016

Today is the 130th anniversary of the fire that completely destroyed Vancouver in 1886, just two months after the city had been incorporated.


The fire was deliberately set, to clear undergrowth between the present-day Main and Cambie Streets, but was swiftly expanded out of control by a heavy wind. Almost every structure in the new city was destroyed, with only three said to survive. A number of people were killed, but very few were identified due to the destructive power of the fire’s high heat.

Rebuilding began within a few days and, in the end, the great fire proved to be merely a hiccough in Vancouver’s rapid rise.

A Real Trip Down Memory Lane

April 6, 2016
Neville, Richard, (1968), OZ 11, OZ Publications Ink Limited, London, 36p.

Neville, Richard, (1970), OZ 31, OZ Publications Ink Limited, London, 48p.

You may have to be as old as me — and possibly brought up in London — to remember OZ, one of the greatest magazines that, between 1967 and 1973, straddled the period from the summer of love to the much harder seventies.

OZ exemplified that era so perfectly with sex, drugs, politics, progressive art, and rock n’roll oozing between its covers, eager to be free. It was in OZ that I first became acquainted, for example, with Robert Crumb’s subversive drawings, and with so much more.

I lived then in a suburb of west London where it was almost impossible to find copies of OZ, and so it also became a great reason to adventure into downtown to find a store that carried it.

Now, Richard Neville, the original editor, has made all copies of OZ available online. Marvelous memories on every page.  We are really lucky to have this artifact of a very different time.

On The Moon

December 14, 2015

Harrison_SchmittHarrison Schmitt was the last of only twelve humans ever to walk on the moon. Forty-three years ago today — yes, way back in 1972 — his ship took off from the moon and we have not been back since.

Manned space flight was the dream of my father’s generation.  We boomers pushed us into the unmanned and more machine-driven discovery of space at the same time as we were inventing programmed stock trading, robotic automation, and plugged-in entertainment.  We love machines apparently.

I wonder where the millennials will take us?

Rosa Parks Day

December 1, 2015

Rosa_Parks_BookingIt was sixty years ago today that an experienced activist named Rosa Parks chose to say “No” when told to give up her bus seat for a white passenger on a rainy night in Montgomery, Alabama. Later, repeating her refusal to a police officer, she was arrested and became an historical figure.

Not withstanding the scores of millions of volunteer hours that went into the Civil Rights movement, and the billions of words crafted to defend the principles of equality and anti-discrimination, movements are often characterized by individual actions: Rosa Parks refusal being a classic example.

Never underestimate the ability of very small groups of people to start movements that develop into landslides of social change.

Joe Hill

November 19, 2015

Joe Hill



Today is the 100th anniversary of the murder by execution of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.


A minute’s silence, and then back to the work that still remains unfinished.

The Invasion Of Grenada

October 25, 2015

On October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada (“Operation Urgent Fury”).  The 1,500-strong Grenadian Army, along with 600 Cuban allies, were considered such a strategic threat to the Imperial Power that Ronnie Reagan sent in the Marines, lying through his teeth to his erstwhile ally Margaret Thatcher all the while.

In case we didn’t get the message:  opposition to the power will be crushed ruthlessly no matter how petty it makes the power look.