Monday, January 04, 2010

What We're Reading: The Fourth Part of the World

Toby Lester's The Fourth Part of the World is an unexpected delight and a well-researched treasure. It is essentially the story of a long lost map, but this serves as a jumping off point to the study and history of how we see our world, and the effect it has had on our attempts to put that information on paper. It is the story of religion and science, longitude and latitude, Columbus and Amerigo, east and west, and so much more. You might think cartography is a bore and not worth the time, but this is a riveting read, full of danger and adventure. There is plenty of interesting trivia to cull from its pages that may impress your friends - for instance, the fact that east used to be found at the top of the map.

I am currently reading The Secret Lives of Buildings (review forthcoming), and I was able to understand a reference to Cipangu and Cathay with the help of Lester. That said, these are two books that are complementary and best read back to back - they cover much the same ground historically even though their focus is different.

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