For several millenia, maps were basically a static medium. The content changed as Europeans discovered the width and breadth of Asia and Asia plotted the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean, but cartography did not. A compass rose was a compass rose was a compass rose.
Not so anymore. Today we are blessed with a plethora of maps that run the gamut from the interactive equivalent to what Columbus used to the augmented reality apps that layer information over city views on smart phones. This cartographic revolution provides the backdrop to Ken Jenning's new book Maphead, in which he charts a path through all manner of geographic wonkery, meeting many eccentrics who share his curious obsession.
The book is filled with curious anecdotes -- cartographers snuck into France before D-Day -- and exactly the sort of detail -- the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island is in the Philippines -- that you'd expect from someone as trivia-oriented as Jennings, who arrived in the pop culture zeitgeist as a twitchy, funny and likable Jeopardy champion. There is some serious discussion of the geography education in America, but the book is at its best when Jennings is geeking out with a fellow enthusiast, talking about historical maps with the head of the Library of Congress's cartographic section or fantasy maps with a childhood friend.
It is very hard not to enjoy Jennings company, especially if you happen to be of the map- or travel-oriented persuasion. His is a world where every place possesses some hidden trait that marks it as unique and fascinating, where picayune detail doubles as revelation.