LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Mercator: the Man who Mapped the Planet

by Nicholas Crane.

A fascinating and incredibly detailed biography of the man who gave us the Mercator projection – the method still used to reproduce the 3D world on a 2D world-map.

The last two pages of the epilogue tell us more about the projection itself than the whole of the rest of the book. The other 99.4% of Crane’s extremely in-depth account tells us about Mercator himself, his education, work, his friends, family, and collaborators, his religion, health, and his ambition to map the (not yet entirely discovered) planet, all set alongside such history of the area (politics, regal wranglings, inquisition, war, plague, etc.) relevant to the story.

Although the author often goes off on tangents, offering background information about the latest person involved in Mercator’s life (and there are many, many people involved), his writing is accessible and the tale irresistible. It took me weeks to read this book, but I always wanted to go back to it.

There might not be a lot about Mercator’s projection itself, but there is an awful lot about the globes and maps he researched (despite remaining in his home region for his entire life) as well as his production methods, including his introduction of italic handwriting.

Fascinating. Loved it. Recommended for anyone interested in a comprehensive low-country history of the times (1500-1600) as well as those with a love of maps.

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