BOOKS IN BRIEF

In time for National Geography Awareness Week (Nov. 15-21), here are capsule reviews of several recent atlases. OXFORD ATLAS OF THE WORLD Oxford University Press, 400 pp., $65

Dot for dot, this atlas may represent the best value in the current list. Like the others, it reflects the most recent changes in Russia and eastern Europe, but what really impresses is the comprehensiveness of place names.

The three main sections include an introduction with clear maps, charts, and diagrams showing such things as geology, trade, and quality of life; a section of city maps, with its own index; and the world maps section. The city maps are not up to the high standards set by the rest, but if you want a single volume to update your library, this may be it. READER'S DIGEST/BARTHOLOMEW ILLUSTRATED ATLAS OF THE WORLD Reader's Digest, 176 pp., $22

The price may look like a bargain, and the Bartholomew name conveys the strength of the world-maps section and its index, but the choice of "facts" in the "Continental Profile" sections is a strange agglomeration. In the "World Environment" section, although the layout is clearer than the rest, five color pages are squandered on redundant, contradictory material solely about climate. TODAY'S WORLD: A NEW WORLD ATLAS FROM THE CARTOGRAPHERS OF RAND McNALLY Rand McNally, 200 pp., $24.95

A straightforward boundary-map variety, this atlas fails to provide any "narrative" of data maps about structure and relationships in the world. It makes unambiguous statements on disputed regions, such as Israel's occupied territories, but includes a guarantee to be current with world events if bought before Jan 31, 1992. HAMMOND ATLAS OF THE WORLD Hammond, 304 pp., $65

The handsomeness, not the innovation, of this atlas is its noteworthy feature. The preface advertises the use of revolutionary computerized tools and a huge new map database, but the end result has some problems. The new tools have apparently encouraged the map-designers to sample the world's landforms in unconventional slices, sometimes resulting in selections that defy common sense, such as the plate on "East Central Africa," which fails to depict any single country in its entirety.

As with all four of these general reference atlases, the basic maps are accurate, thorough, and scholarly. But the "Global Relationships" section is disappointing: Design overtook sense and led to a number of color-keyed data maps with nearly indistinguishable shadings and minuscule legends.

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