On a map riddled with riddles, it was the omissions that were most instructive
Life is hard, it’s a proven fact. hard lives sometimes create exceptional people, Gerardus Mercator is just one such example.
Living through plagues, famines, insurrections and a brush with the Inquisition, Mercator’s life had its fair share of seismic changes
Humans never learn, it is frightening to know that the education system is still as blinkered now as it was in the 1500’s. Ideas have changed but …some things have not.
Mercator chose to do his own learning at home and journeyed where his interests took him and that is the way it should be.
So anyway to the book…
Make no mistake this book is much more than a potted biography of a beardy cartographer, there is a ton of overview concerning the circumstances he found himself living through. We’re talking of the prodigious religious and scientific collisions, not to mention seismic inter-christian theological clashings of the (known) world changing variety. Mixed in and layered over with the geopolitical machinations of leaders and the delicate balances of power in a volatile mish-mash of kingdoms and provinces.
This book has maps, which may sound stupid, but as a lot of the places focussed on, are perhaps not the most recognisable, i.e places in Belgium. There is a lot of name checking and a scholarly feel to this work which does have a tiny touch of the epics about it.
So born into those cauldron of chaos just after (five or so years) the New World has been discovered is Mercator, a man who is proof that anything can be achieved, although like most geniuses, he was such a perfectionist that he wasn’t really appreciated in his life time for what he acheived…it seems people prefered the jazzed up maps with pictures of mythological beasties on, to accuracy!
As well as the above, the evolution in map making, the art and the need for an overview of our world is gone into thoroughly as is the immense difficulty in getting any sort of reliable and accurate information, not to mention the longitude problem…the North East and West passages also get a mention as well to round out the work.
There are a big cast of people and sources featured here and it is a slow building book, but one blessed with richness and depth. It’s worth the effort to get through the initial barrage of unfamiliar names in order to get to the beauty and noble efforts of Mercator and his fellow map makers, who not only made stylish and elegant maps but also propaganda tools which in those unsettled time with so many fickle personalities could get you an appointment with the Inquisition…