- By Geoffrey Godsell
- -TX- Those of us Europeans who come and go between both sides of the Atlantic tend to compile shrinking lists of what Europeans can still do better than Americans. This writer still gives the edge to Europeans for their best-quality shoes and leather-ware, their china, their woolen goods, their chocolates, their cookies, their jams, their cheeses--and their atlases. One of the reasons European atlases tend to be better than American ones is that geography in modern times has not had the same standing in US institutions of higher learning that it has in European ones. Another reason may well be that Americans have had their hands full until comparatively recently just exploring and mapping their own vast land. Professional and amateur cartographers, as well as political scientists, are best served, in this writer's view, by maps that combine in one plate both the physical and political features of the area they depict. It would be hard to find an atlas that does this better than the comprehensive edition of the British-produced Times Atlas of the World. American commercial mapmakers do not generally do the job as well--or even attempt it. Having said that, it would be churlish not to recognize the reputation that the two great US producers of atlases, the National Geographic Society and Rand McNally, have won for themselves. National Geographic maps are the Rolls-Royces of their field on this side of the Atlantic. And if the average citizen is looking for slightly less expensive maps of not quite the same quality, Rand McNally can usually provide them. That general observation applies to the three new reference atlases published in recent months which are the object of this review. The latest National Geographic Atlas of the World is a most impressive publication. It covers the heavens and the ocean beds as well as the earth's land masses. It has a separate section of physical maps of the world. And it has a wealth of other information that makes it a gazetteer as well as an atlas--essays by scientists, for example, inserts of maps of the world's major urban centers, reproductions of the flags of the world, and a brief political-historical sketch of each country in it. The new edition continues the practice of giving place names, not in their usually accepted English version, but in the local language--''Firenze'' for ''Florence,'' for example. This reviewer has always found this somewhat precious. Incongruously, by this style, Dublin remains ''Dublin'': it does not become ''Baile Atha Cliath.'' And we have deeper complications when we come to the Arab world. Who but the initiated would know that ''Bur Sa'id'' is Port Said? Even an Egyptian might wonder, being accustomed to what is pronounced locally as ''Bur Sa'id'' but printed locally in Arabic characters. If he can read Latin characters, ''Bur Sa'id'' would probably puzzle him as much as it must the average American or Britain. ''Port Said,'' not ''Bur Sa'id,'' is what is familiar to him. Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez get the same fancy treatment. Both Rand McNally atlases also wander down a strange road in the risky business of transliterating Arabic names. They show a place outside Cairo labeled ''Al Jizah.'' Since it is on Cairo's outskirts, some might be able to identify the place. But otherwise, who would know that it is ''Giza,'' as generations of English-speakers have known the site of the Pyramids? Somebody should have told the Rand McNally editors about the Arabic character pronounced like a hard ''g'' only in Egypt but like a soft ''j'' elsewhere in the Arab world. This is why it is ''Giza,'' not ''Jiza'' or ''Al Jizah'' - and why the late President Nasser's given name was always and correctly transliterated ''Gamal,'' not ''Jamal.'' Full marks to National Geographic for showing the new county boundaries in Britain and the new department boundaries in France. But shame on Rand McNally, which ignores both old and new departments in France and shows the new British county boundaries only in one or two cases, where no reprinting or redrawing of the map was necessary. This reviewer also suspects that the Rand McNally maps of individual states of the US are not up to date, in that they continue to show railroad lines that are now defunct. It is also irritating to have to turn to a special section of maps of the states to find today's modern highway networks. Presumably Rand McNally will one day get around to drawing new base maps of the 50 states that combine in one plate highways and such railroads as survive. Of the two Rand McNally atlases, this writer would recommend the Cosmopolitan over the Premier for school or library use. The former has a particularly helpful illustrated article on ''Human Patterns and Imprints.''
Rand McNally Cosmopolitan World Atlas. Chicago: Rand McNally. (Pages not numbered.) $45.00 Rand McNally Premier World Atlas. Chicago: Rand McNally. (Pages not numbered.)