Lift the world single handed

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
THE TIMES ATLAS OF THE World (CONCISE EDITION). HarperCollins, Pounds 45. THE OXFORD HAMMOND CONCISE ATLAS OF THE WORLD. Oxford University Press, Pounds 19.99.

Concise" is of course a relative term. The ancestry of the redoubtable family of Times atlases goes back to 1895; the first concise edition appeared in 1972. This seventh edition is considerably more substantial than its contemporary rivals, being "concise" only in relation to the monumental comprehensive edition.

Both come slip-cased in splendour, but this book has normal atlas-sized pages and can be lifted with one hand. It actually has more pages of maps, though the page-size difference permits some larger scales in the comprehensive atlas which has about twice as many place-names. The 46 city plans are here grouped together, rather than dispersed through the atlas as in the senior edition.

The 17 pages on the planetary system, earth structure, map projections, are here reduced to five, but the austere listing of national data (with provincial figures for the larger states) is considerably expanded, including flags, currencies and brief descriptions. I hope that this does not signal the prospect of further encyclopedic adulterations of the classical atlas format associated with the Times volumes.

Atlas designers are beset by dilemmas. If city plans are to be included, as here, which cities? Why is Calcutta the only ten million-plus city to be omitted? Why Caracas but not Lagos, Auckland but not Khartoum, Singapore but not Dhaka? Further difficult and sensitive decisions relate to nomenclature. The editors claim that "a local name form map is more internally consistent than a partly anglicised one" - so your holiday destination may be Eivissa or Lefkosia (cross-referenced to Ibiza and Nicosia but considerably extending the place-name index).

Perhaps the most radical shift is in map-allocation. No less than 68 of the 179 map pages are devoted to Europe, compared with 35 of 123 in the comprehensive edition. This facilitates some remarkably large scales. Poland, for example, is mapped at 1:1.8m, compared with 1;2.5m, the best available scale in the more massive atlas. In contrast, the Africa pages reduce from 24 to 16; food for thought here.

The Oxford Hammond Concise Atlas is a straightforwardly slimmed-down version of its 1993 parent. Sensibly, extraneous material has been cut, not the generous stock of maps. The 120 pages of maps have wastefully wide margins, predominantly drab cement- like colouring, and hill-shading which is too similar to the over-emphatic internal boundaries. The maps, though based on radically new technology, are much less attractive and coherent than the Times ones, and this atlas relies for its appeal on its competitive pricing.

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