Book Review: Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden


“I’m going to snuggle in bed and read the geekiest book ever written, ” I proclaimed and went off to read Transit Maps of the World (2007) by Mark Ovenden. “That is a geeky book,” my wife confirmed. But it’s a book so wonderfully geeky that it goes all the way around to being cool again.

As the title implies this is a book of maps from transit systems around the world, not being too picky about a strict definition for urban transit thankfully.  The book approaches maps of metro systems from an historic and design perspective.  The book is divided into six zones with the older and larger systems getting more attention in the early zones, with less detail on the smaller and newer systems (although amazingly some of the systems in Asia that are of recent vintage are growing in leaps and bounds).

Ovenden appreciates the simplicity of a diagramatic map that eschews topography, where the lines branch out at 45 degree angles, the stations are marked with simple white circles and bulls-eyes for transfer stops, and the stations are clearly labeled in a unique font where the words do not cross the lines.  The book illustrates that most metro maps in the world are variations on these simple design themes that originated with Harry Beck’s famous map of the London Underground.  The major exception is the New York MTA map which is geographically based, and I think appropriately so due to NYC’s unique topography, although here I disagree with the author (I also found an interesting topographically-correct map of Boston’s MBTA system at a website called Radical Cartogaphry).

What I like about this book most is the author’s delight in the maps and the maps and the transit systems they represent.  There’s really a lot of positive commentary in this book and joy in public transit.  Even the MBTA, much-maligned by Bostonians, comes off sounding pretty good.  He even includes this classic, hand-drawn map of the old Boston MTA system where the elevated tracks are rendered in 3-D.

Here are a list of transit-related websites suggested by the book, plus one that makes up maps for Boston’s future that I’ve been a fan of for some time.  I think my fellow transit geeks can waste away many an hour here.

Transit maps of the world / Mark Ovenden ; Mike Ashworth, editor.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2007.
ISBN: 9780143112655
Description: 144 p. : col. maps ; 24 cm.

Book Review: In The Summer Country by John Conlee


In The Summer Country (2007) is the fourth in a series of light-hearted novels based on Arthurian legend by John Conlee, who was one of my favorite professors and an adviser at the College of William & Mary.   The conceit of these novels are that they are told from the perspective of Arthur’s faithful hound Cabal.  I’ve enjoyed reading all of these novels which are rooted in Arthurian traditions going back eons, but are lively and fun as well.  Cabal as a dog is loyal, proud, and often hungry.

This volume is particularly fanciful as Arthur and Cabal participate in an adventure on the Isles of Avalon.  On this adventure they encounter the Wild Herdsman, the Ladies of Avalon,  the evil Meligraunce, the eviler Dark Man, and the witch Scatha.  This magical land allows Arthur and Cabal to communicate in words for the first time.  Cabal also befriends a faery dog and wise-cracking cat.

While a book written for young readers, it’s enjoyable by adults, fans of Arthur, dog fanciers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.

In the Summer Country: A Tale of Arthur, Merlin & Cabal by John Conlee. Pale Horse Books (2006), Edition: 1st, Perfect Paperback, 190 pages