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


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The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World

After the collapse of the Soviet Union an astonishing treasure trove came to light – hundreds of thousands of maps showing in chilling detail countries and cities throughout the world. The story of this amazing cartographic enterprise has never been told .... until now!

The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alexander J Kent is published by University of Chicago Press, price $35 / £26.50

You may not be surprised to learn that during the Cold War the Soviet Union gathered information about the West. But you may be astonished to discover just how much they knew about your town, your street, even your house.
This is the never-before-told story of the world’s most comprehensive mapping endeavour and, arguably, the world’s most intriguing maps.
It is the story of how it was possible, during the dark days of mutual suspicion and under the ever-present threat of mutual nuclear destruction, for Soviet cartographers to collect such an astonishing wealth of detail about the streets, buildings, industries, transport and utilities of capitalist cities. This book is for the general reader and for everyone interested in the history and political geography of the twentieth century.

Book of the Week, Times Higher Education, 7 December 2017

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