What the book is about

During the Cold War the Soviet Union carried out a cartographic project of unprecedented scale and ambition – the detailed mapping of the entire world. Not only strategically vital ports and industrial centers, but cities, small towns and rural areas alike, however unimportant, were plotted and recorded. The Soviet compilers developed a set of standard conventions, symbols and colors for the maps which ensured consistency across the world and enabled a map user to instantly interpret the landscape depicted. This included, for example, annotation which quantified the characteristics of bridges, highways, rivers and forests.

This book describes, for the first time, this gigantic project, from its origins in Tsarist times to its legacy after the fall of communism. The ‘look and feel’ of the maps is examined and the various series, specifications and scales are identified. There is a detailed investigation into the many different methods by which the information was collected, with copious illustrations demonstrating, for example, how data gathered ‘on the ground’ differed from that derived from existing maps and guides and from the results of satellite imagery.

Just as fascinating as the story of the maps during Soviet times, is their role in the post-Soviet world, as the only reliable mapping in existence in many parts of the world and its value to explorers, scientists and even the military of the Western alliances.

Read the background story of the authors' research in Wired.com of July 2015

Read 'Soviet Military Mapping of the Cold War Era' by John Davies on the British Library website, February 2017