‘Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified’: Gorgeous, Strange, and Thought-Provoking

Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified is a book of maps. A book of cities. A book of metaphors. It’s a bit complicated. Highlighting the personalities of 28 different cities all over the world—including London (twice), The City of London (it’s a different entity), Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Dubai, Zurich, Tokyo, Lagos, Jerusalem, Mecca, Boston, and many others—we see a personified, and perhaps a bit stereotypical, version of each. We often use personified terms to describe cities, such as some area being the heart of a city, or describing roadways as arteries. This book seeks to take that concept to a new level, creating visuals for each city that flesh out their physical form.

Each city is interpreted through a theme chosen by the author, Adam Dant, who picks an element and tries to show that aspect of the city through images and words, drawing on its history, culture, and geography. Some examples include: Moscow: The City Out of Reach; Lagos: The Movable City; Rio de Janeiro: The City’s Plumage; Copenhagen: Fairy-Tale Cities; and Dallas and Fort Worth: Cities Born Accidentally on Purpose.

The illustrations of each city are depicted with such things as limbs, digestive systems, lungs, hearts, and plenty of arterial roadways. As you journey through each city, you are guided on a tour of city highlights. As the author says in the introduction, “Each map in this atlas is defined by the particulars of geography, history, population, or, in the case of many places, good or bad reputation.”

Each city is shown in a map of sorts on a full-color spread of an “old” book with fine detail, creatures, images, worn pages, gorgeous endpapers, and more. Paired with that, there is a spread showing an aspect of the city personified, as well as a few of the highlights of the city detailed in smaller sepia paintings, interpreted through the chosen lens. The large format book is gorgeous and well made. There are many elements of old-timey books, as well as old-timey maps, and the hard cover even has some gold foil-stamped elements.

This one’s a little creepy, but the rest of the book isn’t that way.

The book is less map, more interpretation-of-space than I was expecting, but the art is gorgeous and it’s a fascinating way to learn about different areas of the world, albeit in a slightly unusual manner. After reading through the book, I still feel a bit confused as to what it is all about—even after reading the somewhat helpful introduction—but I like odd books, and this one fits that definition nicely. The whole thing is filled with metaphors and ways of interpreting cities through the idea of the human body, which the author accomplished in a fairly innovative way.

Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified is available now and would be of interest to those who appreciate the art of old maps, those who love odd books, and those who love beautiful art. Though the book has more illustrations than words, it will take some time to fully understand all that is contained therein, and repeated examinations will uncover more and more layers of meaning. The more I look through the book, the more I understand, and the more I like it.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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