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Allen, Phillip, The Atlas of Atlases: The map maker's vision of the world,  N.Y., Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1992, ISBN-0-8109-3918-5, 12 x 10½ inches, 160 pp., 300+ full color illustrations, leatherette (Harry N. Abrams, 100 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011, $49.50)

The atlases described in this lavishly illustrated book were donated to the Birmingham (England) Public Library by William Cadbury of the famous confectionery firm.  The collection is indeed toothsome, ranging from a beautifully colored copy of the 1482 Ulm Ptolemy through more obscure works such as those of Bacler Dalbe, and ending with the 1897 Times Atlas.  In all, more than 40 atlases are described, grouped around five general topics (Classical and Medieval Tradition, the Era of Exploration, Dominance of the Dutch, the Age of Empire, and the Modern Age). Commentary is by Phillip Allen, special collections officer at the Birmingham.  His prose is concise and clearly written; the only lapse noticed by this reader was attributing Blaeu's map of Virginia to William, not John, Smith.

The quality of the photography is a particular pleasure.  Even black and white maps are illustrated in color, allowing the reader to appreciate nuances of paper and ink tone.  Equally pleasing is the choice of subject matter: while many individual maps are reproduced, attention is also given to title pages, vignettes, bindings, and non-cartographic illustrations found in atlases.

Many travellers to the U.K. never make it to the "provinces." This book provides a tantalizing glimpse of a lesser-known, but clearly important collection, and a good reason for visiting Birmingham.  It is highly recommended.

Jon K. Rosenthal, 1993

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