This book is about history, travel, and geography, so I could have covered it on Tuesday; it’s also about art, architecture, and graphic design, so I could have covered it Wednesday. But most of all it’s about transportation, so here it is today!

 

 
It’s springtime so young men’s minds turn to – what else? – subway systems!
 
Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden (Penguin Books, 2007) is one of the coolest books I have found in the last few years. It scores in at least three ways:
1)     It is unique; nothing else quite like it exists.
2)     It is beautifully done, with full color maps and posters from many eras.
3)     It is comprehensive, covering all the major metro systems of the world.
 
After a great introduction to transit system history and maps, the book contains 4-page full color spreads on the largest and most historic metro/subway/underground systems: Berlin, Chicago, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris, and Tokyo. Then it proceeds with equally colorful information on about 90 other systems, right down to the smaller and newer (such as Dallas) transit systems. 
 
How could this possibly be interesting to anyone but a dedicated transportation buff like me?
 
For starters, if you study any city which you have visited, it is likely to bring back memories of the neighborhoods, streets, parks, and squares of that city. If you rode the transit system you will likely recall some of the important stops – like Times Square/42nd Street in New York City or Chatelet Les Halles in Paris.
 
If you want to understand a city, whether you have been there or not, these maps will give you some idea of the flow of the place: whether most of the people live north, east, west, or south; and the names of those key junction points around which the city circulates.
 
You will also see the history of graphic design, as different poster, map, and brochure cover styles reflect each era.
 
Certainly, for any map lover or travel lover, this book is a real treat. It’s a beauty, and a bargain!
   

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