A two-page spread displaying an historical map of air currents, taken from the 1849 Johnston Physical Atlas. A DensityDesign Lab infographic ranking past and predicted global deaths attributed to disease and climate change. Several Benjamin Hennig Views of the World data-driven maps depicting refugee trends, economic growth and happiness. An American History graph illustrating the historical ballooning of American home mortgage debt, from $962.3billion in 1980, to $10.4trillion by 2008. From Tibet to the Falkland Islands, the Arctic to Cyprus, a map of all disputed areas around the world.
Even the above is only a fraction of the immense assortment of data presented in all the graphs, maps, and infographics crammed into this book, sourced from numerous newspapers, blogs, think tanks, magazines, and various other media. Reading Understanding the World is like flicking through a printed version of Wikipedia. This reviewer’s personal favourite: a collection of vibrant ‘weather radials’; visualisations of a year’s worth of weather in the world’s major cities, including rainfall and temperature graphics.
You could wish for a more organised system of displaying all this information, although there is something wonderful about turning a page with no idea what is awaiting on the other side. There is also the danger, of course, that a publication such as this may very quickly become out-of-date; indeed, there are plenty of illustrations containing data several years old already, which the reader has no choice other than to assume are still reflective of the current situations. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating read, and regardless of the depth of your current knowledge about the world, is guaranteed to teach you something new.
UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD by Sandra Rendgen and Julius Wiedemann, Taschen, £29.24 (hardback)
This book review was published in the April 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine