Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

THE RED ATLAS: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alexander J Kent

  • Written by  Vitali Vitaliev
  • Published in Books
THE RED ATLAS: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World by John Davies and Alexander J Kent
18 Oct
2017
An inveterate armchair traveller ever since my Soviet childhood, I have always loved maps, which used to provide me with an imaginary window to the outside world – the only one available in the USSR

Much later, when already living in the West, I found out that all maps in the Soviet Union carried deliberate errors, purposeful paranoia-driven deviations to mislead Western spies. Maps, apart from giving joy to both real-life and vicarious travellers, could also be powerful weapons. To quote the authors of The Red Atlas, ‘Maps are instruments of power’.

There were few (if any) mistakes – deliberate or other – in the Soviet cartographers’ military maps of the West, as proved convincingly by the 350-plus extracts reproduced here. To me, they brought back memories of the lessons in Military Tactics at my 1970s Soviet university at which we – for some obscure reason – used the extremely well-produced maps of the area of West Germany around the town of Fünfhausen.

Indeed, Soviet Cold War maps of the West – products of the 40-year global topographic mapping programme initiated by Stalin (from 1950 to 1990) – were truly spectacular, both technologically and artistically. At the recent Maps of the 20th Century exhibition in the British Library, it gave me creeps to look at the large 1980s map of Brighton as a possible nuclear strike target, showing and describing in its super-detailed legend, every single dwelling, warehouse and workshop in that unsuspecting British city. Same with the maps reproduced here: it feels sinister to see the familiar British, American, French or German toponyms, rendered in Russian, as if the places in question have been already occupied by the Soviet Army.

Despite the unmistakably military purposes behind those maps, their sheer quality was such that they continued to be of use even after the collapse of communism. According to The Red Atlas, some post-communist states of Europe derived symbology for their new maps from the established Soviet specifications.

For anyone interested in maps, this book is a sheer delight. It also carries huge educational and historical value by introducing the inner workings of the Soviet military topography – a little-known and rather fascinating side of the Cold War in its own right.

Click here to purchase The Red Atlas by John Davies and Alexander J Kent via Amazon

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

by John Foot • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)

Books

by Deborah Baker • Chatto & Windus • £25 (hardback)

Books

By Lucy Seigle • Trapexe • £12.99/£6.99 (hardback/eBook)

Books

by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin • Pelican • £8.99 (paperback)

Books

by Christoph Baumer • IB Tauris • £30 (hardback)

Books

by Charles Lane • River Books • £40 (hardback)

Books

by Graham Hoyland• William Collins • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Dr Lucy Jones• Doubleday Books • £19.99 (hardback)

Books

by Daniel Pinchbeck• Watkins • £9.99 (paperback)

Books

by Jasper Winn • Profile Books • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Nathan H Lents • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £16.99…

Films

This hard-hitting marine conservation film – part of the Ocean…

Films

Here are the newest non-fiction offerings to satisfy that craving…

Exhibitions

The Society’s Earth Photo exhibition captures the planet’s natural riches…

Books

by Alanna Mitchell • Oneworld • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Christopher J Preston • The MIT Press • £20.95…

Books

by Jamal Mahjoub • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)

Books

by Joanna Kafarowski • Dundurn Press • 15.99 (hardback)

Books

by Peter Dauvergne • Polity Books • £9.99 (paperback)

Books

by Mary Beard and David Olusoga • Profile Books •…