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Atlas that enters new territory

World Reference Atlas, Dorling Kindersley Pounds 29.95. 0 7513 0130 2

This weighty volume belongs to an emerging genre - the "encyclopedic atlas", in which maps are merely one minor item in a rich graphical menu of graphs, diagrams, symbols. Like its closest rival, the Encyclopaedic World Atlas (Philip 1992), it adopts a country by country approach, but offers (for an extra Pounds 10) considerably more detail.

The atlas has an introductory sequence of world and continental maps, including a suite of "snapshots" of world history since 1492. The global perspective also concludes the atlas, with nine double-page spreads on Issues -including a strikingly negative portrayal of "the world's biggest industry", tourism.

There are lists of international acronyms, geographical terms, and a 73-page index. But the bulk, (561 pages) is devoted to 191 surveys of individual countries. Each survey uses 18 standard headings and incorporates ingenious graphics and "icons". Every country is given a map, a listing of key dates, and an effective "world ranking" panel presenting eight key indicators taken from the invaluable annual Human Development Report.

Though one double-page spread is the standard allocation, Britain is given three, China, Russia and the US are given four. For "the world's 70 largest countries" business and land use maps are provided; "largest" evidently does not refer to area, since Denmark qualifies, Sudan does not. "Thirteen of the world's leading countries" also have regional maps (Scotland, Tyneside, London, for the UK). Inevitably, the book's gargantuan scope involves occasional arbitrariness; the format ensures that the largest-scale maps go to the smallest countries, and the chronologies would support the view that for most of the world, history began with European annexation or settlement. Dates are not consistently attached to the statistical material, and the single climate chart per country floats free of any named location. However, this bright and enterprising book is impressively comprehensive and browser-friendly, earning a place in any reference collection.

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