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April 26th, 2009
Map Use – Reading and Analysis

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thumb-map-use-coverMap Use: Reading and Analysis is about reading maps. The book is oriented toward helping people to understand how maps work and can be used to communicate. Where other cartographic books often describe techniques alone, this book provides explanations on how different map techniques are being used. That process ensures that readers begin to think not only about creating maps, but what a map can be used for and how it can help other people to understand.  V1 Magazine editor Jeff Thurston reviews the book and provides a summary.




Map Use: Reading and Analysis

6th Edition



A. Jon Kimerling

Aileen R. Buckley

Phillip C. Muehrcke

Juliana O. Muehrcke


ESRI Press


568 pages; 2009

ISBN: 978 – 1589481909

Review by Jeff Thurston


Maps are special. They are also useful. If you travel any place in the world, you will likely see someone standing on a street, hill or piece of land and looking at a map. Map Use: Reading and Analysis is a book about learning to read maps for all those people, and those yet to follow.

But maps are not solely about navigation and finding a route, landmark or place. Maps are a sort of graphic dictionary. Although they are filled with information that is often tailored and designed specifically for a purpose, they are more often than not depictions of reality at specific points in time that help the map reader understand, learn and experience more.

Author A. Jon Kimerling says of this sixth edition of the book, “Map Use was written for people who want to use maps to better understand not only the physical environment but the human, social, political, and economic environments as well.” Joined by co-author’s Aileen R. Buckley, Phillip C. Muehrcke and Juliana O. Muehrcke, this book is exactly that. In fact, I found it so filled with useful information that it caused me to wonder how I have been looking at maps over the years.

With a foreword by Jack Dangermond who asks, “what does it take to use a map effectively? What special powers are needed to look at this greatly abstracted environmental representation and conjure up a useful image of the that was mapped?”  I would answer that part of it remains magic, something that we cannot quite put into words when inspired by the beauty – both simple and complex – embedded into a map. Yet, he is right, “it does take skill and is learned.” Fortunately books like this make that job easier.

The book begins on the topic of mental maps. Many of us have an idea of ‘what is where’ – well usually. We more or less gather information in our mind as we walk streets, visit areas or learn about them otherwise. Most of us formulate mental images as we process this information. Yet, when we ask someone to draw their own neighbourhood it results in some interesting cartographic maps, or graphic representations of what their mental maps look like. This book talks about these representations and the many kinds of cartographic maps possible for different situations amd what makes maps popular. It can be difficult to find books that begin like this one does in Part One entitled – “Map Reading.”

Earth coordinates are discussed, as are earth’s shape and circumference. Geodesy is here, scale is mentioned and datums are outlined along with geoids.  Some very helpful, and easy-to-understand calculations are included for determining scale. The author’s discuss the United States grid reference system along with the British National Grid reference system.  The concept of land partitioning, or land division is included and explained in terms of parcels and plats, subdivisions as well as metes and bounds. French long lots (Quebec and Louisiana) are also described. Land claims and grants along with surveying issues and measurements are similarly outlined and expanded upon.

Relief mapping and relief portrayal receive attention in this book and digital elevation models are presented. Included is the concept of animated mapping. It would have been useful to include more examples and discussion about animated maps due to the fact that many people interact with cartographic representations through mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices today, all of which can rightfully be considered as maps – and I wonder sometimes if we understand them?

Several qualitative thematic mapping examples are provided with an emphasis on U.S. land use examples from Minneapolis, Oregon and Mississippi. Tthe later includes an interesting flyway portrayal. Several excellent examples for quantitative mapping from Oregon, California and Pennsylvania show the relationship of people to land use, population density and household income rankings.

The image maps section of the book is focused upon examples from the most popular available satellite imaging platforms and the tenth chapter provides a discussion of map accuracy and uncertainty through discussions surrounding cartographic abstraction, error and bias, precision and accuracy to round out Part One or the halfway point of the book. While the first part of the book is structured into what the author’s refer to as map reading with the idea of map appreciation and de-constructing maps on the reader’s part, Part Two by comparison begins with Chapter 11 and is oriented to map analysis beginning with distance finding and the determination of distance.

Practical calculations for measurement and determination are provided along with use of a compass, direction finding and charting. Electronic global positioning system (GPS) devices are presented together with marine navigation and aeronautical charting. While basic GPS operation theory is provided, I wonder if many people will need to know this detail? More description about virtual reference systems, GPS-to-GIS, WAAS and GNSS with the advent of new GNSS technologies would have been welcome – especially since they come as ‘services’ to digital map readers and data collectors.

The chapter on area and volumes is based upon determination from hardcopy map products and several formula are given for determining these measurements. A good discussion of slope measurement is included and I am betting that few people know about slope paths, or the determination of constant slopes – which is highly useful for map readers in the field while traversing hilly or mountainous areas.

Spatial arrangement is discussed and the graphics for this section are quite helpful for understanding and thinking spatially about the distribution and “way things are placed geographically.” This book explains how interpolation techniques are used and what a ‘nearest neighbour’ actually means. The discussion about connectivity is helpful for those interested in network analysis and connecting routes from place-to-place. The authors have included examples for spatial association and use lung cancer for males versus females to show how this technique works. A full glossary is provided and will be interesting to those wanting a quick reference for it’s completeness.

At 528 pages Map Use, Reading, Analysis, and Interpretation packs a lot of information into one book. While it does not go into great depth on individual topics, it covers most of those one would have to purchase two or three books to learn about. As author Kimerling says, “the underlying theme that separates Map Use from other books on mapping is its emphasis on the fact that maps do not merely show what is in our environment but are windows into how people think, adjust to their surroundings, make decisions, and communicate geographic information with each other.”

In practice this book shows readers both how to make the map and how to understand one. The book benefits from having a professional cartographer involved, and it shows. There are some great maps in this book and they have been reproduced well with clarity and color. Consequently this book contains an attractiveness that is not as apparent in most other cartography books I’ve reviewed. While I think this book would benefit from describing digitally delivered maps and supporting infrastructure in more depth simply because people are getting them on mobile devices more often, the basic information provided is sound, useful and applies everywhere.

This book caused me to wonder why map software does not somehow also intuitively explain what is being seen / can be understood, when it is presented – for digital mapping.

Be careful before you buy two or three or four books to learn all about cartography, geodesy, mapping and understanding spatially thinking. This book might just have all you need in one integrated, informative and useful package, and with an attractiveness that is going to be hard to match.  This is one book that should be on your book shelf.

Visit the ESRI website to learn more about this book.


Jeff Thurston is editor at V1 Magazine and V1 Energy magazine and has reviewed products and books for many years.

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