The best cartography books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about cartography and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Book cover of The History of Cartography, Volume 6: Cartography in the Twentieth Century

The History of Cartography, Volume 6: Cartography in the Twentieth Century

By Mark Monmonier,

Why this book?

A blockbuster of a reference work, but also a vital tool for all those interested the history of maps and mapping. Part of a series that is at once majestic, handsome, and full of the detailed knowledge of scholarship.

From the list:

The best books for people who love maps

Book cover of The Story of Maps

The Story of Maps

By Lloyd A. Brown,

Why this book?

You can certainly find more recent surveys of the history of cartography, but this accessible work, first published in 1949, still stands out as an engaging and enlightening survey of the territory. Lloyd Brown begins his story some 2000 years ago, in Alexandria, Egypt, with the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose geographical ideas came together in the work of Claudius Ptolemy, and he then goes on, in an enjoyable narrative style, to show how scholars and monks and merchants and sailors and scientists all contributed to the art of mapmaking. The first half of the book provides an excellent summary…

From the list:

The best books on the geographical ideas that informed the age of discovery

Book cover of The History of Cartography, Volume 3: Cartography in the European Renaissance

The History of Cartography, Volume 3: Cartography in the European Renaissance

By David Woodward,

Why this book?

You won’t be curling up in bed with this two-volume, 2,272-page encyclopedic history of cartography in the European Renaissance—but if you’ve got a passion for maps, or if you want the most comprehensive source of information on the cartography of the period, it’s a delightful and even essential work to consult. The essays are diverse and deeply informative, and the reproductions, including 80 gorgeous color plates, are a treat to spend time with.

From the list:

The best books on the geographical ideas that informed the age of discovery

Book cover of Mapping the World: An Illustrated History of Cartography

Mapping the World: An Illustrated History of Cartography

By Ralph E. Ehrenberg,

Why this book?

You get a lot of insight into a culture from the maps they create. Not only how they view themselves, but how they view others around them. There have been times in history when cultures weren’t even concerned with their maps being geographically accurate— they were a tool for teaching religion, or indulging a yearning for the fantastic. This book gives an excellent overview as to the many ways humans have used, and designed, maps throughout the centuries.

From the list:

The best books for world-building

Book cover of How Maps Work: Representation, Visualization, and Design

How Maps Work: Representation, Visualization, and Design

By Alan M. MacEachren,

Why this book?

Maps and data visualization live in my mind as close cousins: geographical coordinates are often the best way to show where data happens, and the techniques that cartographers have worked out can be adapted to the ways I represent visuals. Maps also have some interpretive advantages over abstract data: San Francisco is always west of Washington, DC. That’s not as true of information graphs, where their respective data points might move around depending on what is being plotted and what the axes are.

From the list:

The best books to inspire you to think differently about data

Book cover of Mr. Beck's Underground Map: A History

Mr. Beck's Underground Map: A History

By Ken Garland,

Why this book?

Without doubt the inspiration and key reference work for so many books, websites and studies investigating the design of subway maps. Being one of the only writers on cartography who actually met Harry Beck, Garland was the first to forensically examine the London Tube diagram designed by him. The intimacy of Garlands relationship with beck shines through and informs the whole text. The reader even gets to see some of Becks unpublished works. A simply ‘must have’ for anyone interested in railways, cartography and design in general.

From the list:

The best books about subways and urban trains

Book cover of Map: Exploring the World

Map: Exploring the World

By Phaidon Press, John Hessler,

Why this book?

Maps are the most ancient type of infographic we know, and that comes as no surprise. Spatial navigation is one of the most important evolutionary skills that both animals and humans have developed. Recording this knowledge in maps requires both a thorough scientific understanding and considerable artistic skills. This beautiful coffee table book is a mind-blowing and timeless trip through the field of cartography. It charts the development from pre-historic maps carved in stone all the way to recent brain scans from the Human Connectome Project. Give me this book and I’ll be lost browsing through its visual treasures for…
From the list:

The best inspirational books from the world of infographics

Book cover of William Birchynshaw's Map of Exeter, 1743

William Birchynshaw's Map of Exeter, 1743

By Richard Oliver, Roger Kain, Todd Gray

Why this book?

The discovery of hitherto unknown maps is a great treat and this edition uses one to show the development of urban mapping. Well-anchored in the locality, this book is also of much wider value.

From the list:

The best books for people who love maps

Book cover of The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

By Reif Larsen,

Why this book?

I’ve always felt a desire to make the world make sense through data – that numbers and structure could help unlock hidden meanings. When I read this novel, I felt seen: it’s told from the perspective of T. S. Spivet – a 12-year-old boy who has the same urge. Spivet thoroughly documents the world around him, sketching an ant he sees in the grass, and drawing schematics and maps of the spaces he travels through on his quest to travel to the Smithsonian Institution. The book’s margin is lavishly illustrated with Spivet’s diagrams – in seeing the world through his…

From the list:

The best books to inspire you to think differently about data

Book cover of A History of America in 100 Maps

A History of America in 100 Maps

By Susan Schulten,

Why this book?

An excellent example of the British Library’s History … in 100 Maps series, this book, by an expert, on the American geopolitical imagination, combines a first-rate text with instructive maps. Handsomely produced, it is good value.

From the list:

The best books for people who love maps

Or, view all 14 books about cartography

New book lists related to cartography

All book lists related to cartography

Bookshelves related to cartography