Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Bestiary in Maps?

JF Ptak Science Books   Post 2351

In the history of cartography besides the construction of map-y maps there are maps that stray beyond the strict geographical diction of necessity, some of which edify the data and others which creatively explain or decorate it.  There are unusual maps of hobo travel, the Garden of Eden, Hell, Heaven, moles, hair growth direction, slavery, suffering, invasion routes, time, prisons, aliens, population density, disease, education,  paved roads, trolley, electric lights, sewers, fire damage, and on and on, some of which are created in a way to make the map more identifiable and to also make it, well, fun, or at least more accessible.  Then there are maps whose explication or decoration or alliteration have little to do with the geographical reasons for the map existing in the first place. And this leads us to today’s post.  


Finding Unseen Things In and From the Air

JF Ptak Science Books

Seeing more deeply--air weather det853

Finding the hard-to-find, the invisible, the “hidden”, is an essential aspect of, well, mostly everything.  Whether it is Newton separating light with a prism to find its constituents, or Hooke investigating the formerly quasi-real microscopical world to reveal worlds within worlds, or Galileo using his telescope to quash the ideas of the unaided-eye-visible night sky as an unaltering perfection of creation, or Roentgen seeing through his wife’s skin, or Fraunhoefer finding the complex spectrum, or Henry Draper determining a chemical constituent of the sun, or the invention of the zero or negative numbers or subtraction, of finding Black Holes or other planets or the remnants of the Big Bang, or (Kandinsky) finding the nonrepresentational aspect of art, or Duchamp finding in an upturned urinal that art had no boundaries…the list goes on and on.


The “Where, When, and How” of Attacking Berlin (1943)

JF Ptak

I found this arresting map in a tiny publication called …Sans Condition, which was published in the first half of 1943. The publication is only 12 pages long but has a number of evocative images of Germany being bombed and lines of German POWs, in general a propaganda piece for French-speaking folk (which was printed god-knows-where) produced deep in the war and at a time when the tide has about turned on the Nazi regime.  

The title of this post is the title of the map,  “Ils ont decide ou, quand et comment les Allies lanceront leurs attacques”–and you don’t need to know French to know what it says.  


Explosives as a Civilizing Force (1930)

JF Ptak Science Books   Quick Post

This is the very striking cover design for a pamphlet written by Dr. Julius Klein (the assistant secretary of commerce) produced by the Institute of Makers of Explosives (103 Park Avenue, NYC, who of course made a large play for blowing stuff up as a positive driving force in the history of civilization.  And they are right in many cases, obviously, but the images and title taken out of context are very provocative. 

Explosives civilizing423

 Dr. Klein starts off by disabusing the reader of the “bad press” of explosives:  “a good many of us, I imagine, labor under a misapprehension about the explosives industry…we conceive of explosives as an instrumentality of havoc.  But that conception is utterly wrong.”  Utterly?  The man does have a point of course,  which he explains in subject headings like “Dynamite the Liberator”, “Many Unusual Uses”and “Explosives Release Raw Materials”  But “utterly”?  Its a real piece of heavily worked propaganda that makes the case for the economics goodnesses and misunderstood destructive values of TNT.