Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Book Review: Railway Maps of the World

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There is a web page for this book but it does not appear to be working properly.

The author, Mark Ovenden and the publisher, Viking Books both have more information on their web pages. He also has a blog. Naturally.

I was offered – and requested – a review copy, and it is one that I will not just keep but consult. My first reaction on opening it was that I would need a magnifying glass. The hardback book is 11¼” x 9¾” – which is sizeable if not exactly coffee table size. In fact I was pleased initially since I have too many such books – most on railway topics – and the bookcase will clearly not accommodate another. The shelf is sagging as it is. And some of these maps seem likely to exist online as they are the current passenger system maps. For every country in the world that has a passenger service. It is the historic ones that interest me most, and I think that most were originally designed as large posters. Being a convenient size means the book is easier to handle and reasonably priced. Though as usual we Canadians are charged a higher price than those people a little to the south. (US $35  Canada $40.50) You probably have your own views on cross border shopping so I am not going to open up that here.

I am also going to ask for his other books if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas. I will start with “Transit Maps of the World” and wait a bit longer for “Paris Underground”. Unless, of course, someone wants to send me review copies of those too.

To give you some idea of the sort of material that is available here is his flyer (from his blog page)

Even at the size on this page, the amount of information and the way it is conveyed is striking. It is not just the maps either. There are lots of illustrations and well conveyed ideas in text too. Since he had to cover the whole world in this project, some places get a bit less than I would like, but sometimes his choices are uncanny. For instance he has the line diagram put out by the LMS railway when they took over the London Tilbury and Southend line. That includes the links that were then in place so that through trains could run from the Circle Line to Southend! As a small boy I thought that was a splendid idea. Once the underground was electrified that sort of thing became rarer and ceased altogether by the time of nationalisation.

I think everyone who has any interest at all in the subject matter of this blog will find much to absorb them. There is quite a lot about how the railways shaped development – both urban and rural. Specific attention is paid to areas such as the Canadian prairies and Los Angeles. But I am equally sure that many people will be tracing rides they have taken and would one day like to take. The decline of railways in places like Canada, the US and Argentina (mind you they did go a bit overboard originally) is strongly contrasted to what is happening in Japan, China and other more forward thinking nations. Sad, of course, are the countries not mentioned simply because they do not have any passenger trains at all.

You should buy this book if you are at all interested in railways, or how transportation affects the way we live or if you are interested in design and cartography. Actually I think everyone gets caught up in maps – being “put on the map” is still a concern (almost as much as the indication “you are here’) but undoubtedly important is the way that maps deceive us – sometimes intentionally. In fact many railway maps were produced to persuade the traveller to take one route in preference to others (crossing from Dunkerque to Tilbury was a lot longer than Calais to Dover, for example, but don’t expect the marketing department to tell you that).

“Metro Maps of The World” was published in November 2003 and sold out its first run in a matter of weeks. In September 2005 Mark moved to France to focus on his next book about the Paris Metro. Meantime his original publication was picked up by a Dutch Publisher (‘Metrokaarten van der wereld” 2006) and also by Penguin in the USA. The American version, “Transit Maps of The World” was published October 2007. Media coverage was phenomenal and led to unexpectedly high sales, and a Top 100 ranking in the Amazon Sales Charts where it is still often the number one best-selling book in it’s category (Mass Transit)!

I suspect that this book will equal that performance, so it might be a good idea not to wait around too long if you want to get your hands on a copy. And (before you ask) no, this is one book that I am not going to lend anyone!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Railway

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  1. [...] picked this up off Stephen Rees’s [...]

  2. [...] influents sur la densité de la ville et sa géographie. En fait seul le réseau ferré et la densité d’habitat vont de pair, et tout se gâte et s’étale avec les autres moyens de transport. Le développement [...]


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