Reviews

Joe Weisberg, creator and executive producer of “The Americans” : “When money and technology weren’t an issue—when it was just about brainpower and hard work—the Soviets could compete with anyone. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that their mapmakers, like their athletes, were among the best in the world. Many of the maps in this collection were made to guide Soviet soldiers in potential wars against enemies abroad. But like the best socialist-realist propaganda posters, they transcend their original purpose. Decades after they were created, they are now unique works of art, offering the viewer what can only be called a kind of emotional-cartographic-political experience.”


Marina Lewycka, author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian : “Utterly fascinating. A must-read for anyone interested in the former Soviet Union or in maps and mapping in general.”

Mark Monmonier, author of How to Lie with Maps : “The Red Atlas is an amazing book, especially if you’ve ever pondered the power of satellite imagery as a surveillance tool. Military mapping has two modes: mapping one’s own territory so you can better defend it, and mapping an opponent’s territory so you can attack or take control. Focusing on the latter, The Red Atlas shows the impressive and frightening detail of maps of Western Europe and North American prepared by Soviet cartographers during the Cold War. Overhead imaging with satellites and high-resolution cameras provided the basic geographic canvass and ground intelligence—spies, tourists, and maps sold freely by commercial firms and government surveys—filled in local details such as street names, the height and width of railway overpasses, and the load capacity of bridges. Map collector John Davies collaborated with academic cartographer Alex Kent to tell the story of how the USSR systematically mapped the West’s cities, ports, highways, railways, and military targets, and how these maps fell into the hands of map dealers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their examination of selected examples from Britain and the United States also highlights errors that are revealing in some cases and puzzling in others. The Red Atlas belongs in the collection of every map enthusiast and military historian—carefully researched, well-written, and exquisitely designed and printed, it’s perhaps the only recent map history that can be called a real eye-opener.”

Vitali Vitaliev, Geographical Journal Oct 2017 : For anyone interested in maps, this book is a sheer delight. It also carries huge educational and historical value by introducing the inner workings of the Soviet military topography – a little-known and rather fascinating side of the Cold War in its own right. Read the full review

Barbara Kiser, Nature October 2017 ... As John Davies and Alexander Kent reveal in this glorious homage embellished with 350 map extracts, the gargantuan project might have been groundwork for a cold-war coup. Read the full review

Elizabeth Elliot, American Historical Association, Perspectives on History, November 2017. Paper Plans: Inside the Mysteries of Soviet Mapmaking

Jonathan Crowe, The Map Room Blog, 20 November 2017.

Prof Jerry Broton in Times Higher Education writes : Most scholars assumed that JB Harley’s innovation came from reading post-structuralist critical theory, but John Davies and Alexander Kent’s brilliant Red Atlas, on the extraordinary Soviet project to map the world from the 1940s until the empire’s collapse in 1989, suggests that Harley and his disciples were also responding to how state power during this particular confrontational period appropriated cartography to further its political ideology.
Harley would have admired this book for many reasons: its scholarly detail, the light touch of its critical argument, the lavishness of its illustrations, its dry humour and, above all, the remarkable and definitive story it tells of what the authors call “the world’s largest mapping endeavour”, a crucial yet neglected moment in 20th-century cartography due to the Soviet Union’s demise and the strict secrecy surrounding its map-making.
The Red Atlas is the best kind of cartographic history: scrupulously researched across the fields of map-making as well as social history, telling in its detail yet alive to the human act of map-making, and beautifully reproduced by Chicago University Press. It also takes us deftly beyond Harley’s thesis that maps are simply driven by ideology. Read the full review


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