Review essay Cartographic intelligence: the atlas as access, Joseph W. Caddell, Jr.Department of Defense, National Intelligence University, Washington, DC, USA.
Published online: 01 Jun 2018.
" Red Atlas is a masterful, expert dissection of the thousands of Soviet military maps that have bubbled up to public visibility in the West, ranging in scale and scope from large area 1:4,000,000 scale air navigation charts down to 1:10,000 city maps. Most importantly, it offers forensic analysis of who made the maps, how, and why In grappling with these questions, Davies and Kent expand the literature on cartographic intelligence in new and exciting ways. [...]
Red Atlas’ contributions to the study of intelligence and national security are substantial. Davies and Kent offer a treasure trove of primary source material. [...]
The book is itself a work of art. The quality of the paper, selection of interior colors, elegant font choices, and (most importantly) bright high-resolution reproductions of the maps themselves (282 color plates in all) make this a source of esthetic and tactile pleasure. [...]"
Review (in French) by Laurent Jégou, Mappemonde [En ligne], 124 | 2018, mis en ligne le 10 juillet 2018,
'Very widely illustrated, the book presents its readers with numerous reproductions, extracts, details of the maps, which complete the descriptions. The surprise and the strange effect of seeing these "western" country maps in Cyrillic are surpassed and deepened by a scientific, cartographic, geographical and geopolitical discussion that is properly argued. [translation]'
Review by Emily Crouch in www.russianartandculture.com, 12 July 2018. '.. do we owe immense admiration to the authors for their Herculean research effort into a ground breaking subject? Undoubtedly.'
Review by Daun van Ee, in Imago Mundi 70:2, 2018. 'This ... is a work that educates the intellect and pleases the eye. While some may regret the lack of any comparative discussion or American and British mapping during the Cold War … most will greet this work with enthusiasm, gratitude and even amazement'
Review by Tim Barney, in SoC Bulletin 51 (Society of Cartographers), June 2018. 'The Red Atlas is the impressive fruit of years of Davies’ and Kent’s labours, leaving us with a subject that must be talked about ... University of Chicago Press has worked with them to produce a beautiful and lovingly-curated volume that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is politically and historically important'.
Review by John L Cruickshank, in The Cartographic Journal, 18 June 2018. 'Publication of this long-awaited book is very welcome. The authors have, of course, previously published and presented parts of their work on the Soviet world mapping programme, but this is the first presentation of their work as a whole. And an impressive whole it is too'.
Review by Kristen Roth-ey, in TLS The Times Literary Supplement, 18 May 2018. 'The title of this handsome, quirky, and illuminating volume about the post- war Soviet Union’s gargantuan military mapping project is both evocative and misleading ... the 300-plus maps Davies and Kent do reproduce are fascinating in their scrupulous, even compulsive attention to detail'.
Bridget Kendall, former BBC Moscow correspondent, Which Way to Uondsuert? Literary Review, April 2018 '... only now, looking through this extraordinary book, do I appreciate the magnitude of the enterprise which back in 1991 I had gleaned just a hint of' ... 'this book does an admirable job of interrogating the maps to unearth the mystery of their making'
Review by 'Lynceus' in Medmenham Association Spring Newsletter, April 2018. '[the authors] have done a fine job. ... The hundreds of illustrations (predominantly extracts from maps) are superbly reproduced'.
Review by Jeremy Crump in Living Maps Reviews, March 2018. "Davies and Kent have done a great service in drawing attention to this fascinating corner of cold war history"
Review by Nina Bogdan, University of Arizona in H-War, H-Net Reviews, February 2018. "this would be a wonderful text to accompany J. B. Harley’s The New Nature of Maps (2001) or Mark Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps (1991) in an undergraduate class on the history of cartography and the nation-state."
Review by Steven Merritt Miner in Journal of Historical Geography, February 2018. "In this informative, fascinating, and beautifully illustrated book, John Davies and Alexander J. Kent provide a glimpse of a massive, topsecret Soviet effort to map the world"
Book of the Week, Roger Lewis, Daily Mail, 26 January 2018 Read the full review
5 star review by Simon Ing in Daily Telegraph, 13 January 2018 Read the full review
Zach Mortice in Landscape Architecture Magazine, 11 January 2018, " British authors and map enthusiasts John Davies and Alexander Kent have found a way to break open these mysteries with a beautiful and brief cartographic volume. The book focuses on how these maps were assembled in covert and overt ways, and how Davies and Kent decoded them, relentlessly tracing them back to their source documents. "Read the full review
American Scientist 'Book of the Day' 10 January 2018 "... the book is gorgeously designed. The photos here show how lovingly the maps have been reproduced and the care taken with details such as the book's crimson endpapers and the trompe l'oeil envelope design of the cover " Read the full review
Prof Jerry Broton in Times Higher Education. 7 December 2017 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
Jonathan Crowe, The Map Room Blog, 20 November 2017.
Elizabeth Elliot, American Historical Association, Perspectives on History, November 2017. Paper Plans: Inside the Mysteries of Soviet Mapmaking
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
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
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.”