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August 20, 2014  
 
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NEWSLETTER


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As editor of Social Studies School Service's Geography Catalog, I frequently receive plaintive phone calls from teachers and department heads who are about to spend their hard-won money on an atlas (or on dozens or even hundreds of atlases), and they need more information than the one-paragraph descriptions our print catalogs give them.

Often they ask which atlas is "best," but the real question that needs to be asked is "Which atlas is best for my particular needs?" Some important questions to consider here: Who is going to use the atlas? What will they use it for? What features are most important to you? How much do you plan to spend?

For instance, if you will use the atlas for intensive work on understanding latitude and longitude, you might require an atlas that uses no other location system that might distract students or be used as a crutch. On the other hand, you may prefer an atlas that includes not only latitude and longitude but also alphanumeric grids, because then one system can serve as the answer key to the other.

This article provides a series of descriptions that permit point-by-point comparisons between atlases. It discusses what types of maps are included, how color is used, how much detail is shown, and how up-to-date the atlases are.

Note that, throughout these descriptions, the term "sub-national political units" refers to political entities one level below the national government (such as states, departments, provinces, and republics in a federation). Also, the phrase "republics of the Russian Federation" refers to the semi-autonomous states that compose Russia (Chechnya is the most famous example), not the nations that broke away from the USSR (Ukraine, for example). The term “terrain regimes” may be unfamiliar to some readers: most physical-political maps use color to indicate elevation, with low areas typically colored green and high areas brown, but other maps use color to denote terrain regimes—for example, light green for marshes, dark green for forested areas, light brown for desert areas, and dark brown for mountainous regions.

Student Atlas of World Politics top

McGraw-Hill. 8½" x 11". 222 pages. 9th Edition. ©2011.
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Main selling points: thematic maps and data tables focus on factors that influence current world affairs

Types of maps: physical and political maps of the continents; historical maps emphasizing 20th-century political developments; and 126 thematic maps that graphically illustrate current statistics concerning the global economy, natural resources, environmental conditions, and demographics measuring development of the standard of living (for instance, infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy, gender inequity, and employment)

Treatment of physical features: most maps are political (mountain ranges indicated typographically) or statistical; the physical maps of the continents use shaded relief to depict elevation

Use of color: shaded relief in physical maps; a seven-color system distinguishing countries in political maps; most of the maps use colors to represent statistical differences between countries

Level of detail: world maps and regional maps show national boundaries; 22 maps of regional "flashpoints" show rivers and sometimes show major transportation routes

System of location: 20-degree longitude and latitude lines (unnumbered) in world maps; five- or ten-degree longitude and latitude lines in continent maps

Projections: predominantly Greenwich-centered Robinson (armadillo) projections of the world, but regional maps use other projections as needed

Index: 16 pages, gives page numbers and latitude and longitude, with countries and major cities keyed to political maps of the continents and physical features keyed to physical maps of the continents

Special features: country and dependency profiles

Accuracy: Statistics accurate through 2006

Classroom Atlas of the United States top

MapQuest. 8" x 11". 104 pages. ©2010.
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Main selling points: Very inclusive—includes history maps, and extends its coverage to U.S. territories; many maps include explanatory captions

Types of maps: full U.S. in physical, political, and thematic maps: regions in physical-political and thematic maps; political maps of territories; U.S. history in 40 maps from first migrations to the presidential election of 2008

Treatment of physical features: lightly indicated shaded relief in physical and physical-political maps

Use of color: wide variety in use of color from one map type to the next

Level of detail: world maps; western hemisphere maps; Canada, U.S., and Mexico maps; and regional U.S. maps, all with sub-national political units showing major and capital cities, large lakes, and major rivers

System of location: country, hemisphere, and world maps use longitude and latitude; regional maps use no locator system

Projections: unidentified, except world is Robinson and hemisphere is Miller cylindrical

Index: 5 pages; identifies type of feature (lake, sea, etc.); entries keyed to the small-scale maps by page numbers and latitude and longitude; the index is a weak point because it does not cover the regional or history maps

Special features: a two-page map skills tutorial, an illustrated glossary of landforms

Accuracy: U.S. history maps updated to 2008, world map includes independent East Timor

Perthes World Atlas top

Klett-Perthes/McGraw Hill. 9" x 11". 315 pages. ©2006.
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Also see the NEW DIGITAL PERTHES WORLD ATLAS

Main selling points: first-class cartography at a moderate price; exceptional detail; superb pictorial essay on how to read and interpret maps; thematic maps are numerous and of outstanding quality; and almost the entire atlas is also available in digital format so teachers can display maps on computers or project maps for their whole class to see

Types of maps: physical-political maps with shaded relief

Treatment of physical features: world and regional maps, 70 world thematic maps

Use of color: physical-political maps use an unlimited palette of colors to set countries apart, thus minimizing the potential for confusion; thematic maps also use an unlimited palette of colors

Level of detail: world maps, continent maps, regional and individual country maps, sub-national political units shown for many but not all applicable countries; major and capital cities, midsize towns; major roads, major and minor railroads, and canals

System of location: all maps use latitude and longitude; physical-political maps (and some thematic maps) also use alphanumeric grids

Projections: world maps use the Winkel Tripel projection; regional maps use a variety of unidentified projections

Index: 92 pages; page numbers and alphanumeric keys; symbols identify the types of features

Special features: a “visual table of contents” provides locator maps for quickly finding the map you want; an illustrated essay (11 pages) explains “How to Read and Interpret Maps”; a glossary defines technical demographic terms used in the thematic maps; tables include national maps with country statistics, a statistical profile of the Earth, and continent-by-continent listings of major mountains, rivers, lakes, and islands

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

Goode’s World Atlas top

Rand McNally. 9" x 11½". 400 pages. 22nd Edition. ©2010.
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Main selling points: one of the best atlases in the world

Types of maps: physical-political; also dozens of types of special interest maps

Treatment of physical features: shaded relief, colors representing elevations and depths, and many specialized symbols

Use of color: the physical-political maps use shades of colors to convey elevations and depths, marking borders with shaded lines; special interest maps use a wide variety of color schemes

Level of detail: world maps, continent maps, regional and individual country maps; sub-national political units shown for many but not all applicable countries; major and capital cities, midsize towns; major roads, railroads, and canals

System of location: all maps include latitude and longitude

Projections: extensive variety

Index: 100 pages; supplies pronunciations, locations, types of features (desert, mountain, river, etc.)

Special features: introductory essays (with diagrams) concerning scale, projections, and symbols used in thematic maps; 65 pages of world thematic maps; a half dozen or more pages of thematic maps for each continent; more than 60 maps of major cities; several statistical tables; glossary of foreign terms

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

Answer Atlas top

Rand McNally. 8½" x 11". 176 pages. Revised edition. ©2009.
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Main selling points: Selects the most often used maps from the superlative Goode's World Atlas and puts them in an affordable paperback edition

Types of maps: physical-political; also a half dozen types of special interest maps

Treatment of physical features: shaded relief, colors representing elevations and depths

Use of color: the physical-political maps use shades of colors to convey elevations and depths, marking borders with shaded lines; special interest maps use a wide variety of color schemes

Level of detail: world maps, continent maps, regional and individual country maps, sub-national political units shown for many but not all applicable countries; major and capital cities, midsize towns; major roads, railroads, and canals

System of location: all maps include latitude and longitude

Projections: extensive variety

Index: 14 pages

Special features: seven world thematic maps; a half dozen or more thematic maps for each region; many maps of major cities; 11 pages of intriguing geographical questions and answers; flags of the world with national statistics; 21 pages of special interest tables and diagrams; glossary of foreign terms

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

Student Atlas top

Dorling Kindersley. 9½" x 11". 176 pages. Fifth Edition. ©2008.
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Main selling points: a wide variety of maps accompanied by lots of explanatory text; the abundance of text makes this a teaching tool as well as a reference (be aware that much of the text is very, very small)

Types of maps: physical, political, physical-political, thematic; introductory section shows world maps; subsequent sections feature continental maps plus maps of sub-continental regions

Treatment of physical features: shaded relief

Use of color: in physical and physical-political maps, shaded relief with color-coded terrain regimes; political maps distinguish countries by a five-color system; thematic maps use colors in a variety of ways

Level of detail: larger cities, major roads, rivers, major physical features; sub-national units shown for Australia, Canada, and the United States

System of location: latitude and longitude plus alphanumeric grids used for regional maps

Projections: wide variety

Index: 22 pages; countries, cities, and significant physical features indicated with page numbers and alphanumeric keys

Special features: flags of the world; brief glossary; facts about maps and mapping

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

Scholastic Atlas of the World top

Scholastic. 8½" x 11½". 224 pages. Updated edition. ©2003.
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Main selling points: augmenting maps with text and graphic boxes makes this a good starter atlas for young geographers

Types of maps: political

Treatment of physical features: shaded relief with major rivers, lakes, and peaks drawn and labeled

Use of color: color indicates terrain regimes


Level of detail: world map; regional maps; some individual country maps; sub-national political units (states, departments, provinces) often shown; major and capital cities; no roads or railroads

System of location: alphanumeric grids

Projections: vary from map to map as appropriate

Index: 17 pages; page numbers and alphanumeric keys; identifies type of feature (river, lake, desert, etc.)

Special features: graphic representations of the solar system and of certain geographical comparisons (largest islands, largest lakes, longest rivers, highest and lowest points of continents)

Accuracy: includes Nunavut; published before East Timor's independence

Scholastic New Headline World Atlas top

Hammond. 8½" x 11". 52 pages. Revised edition. ©2010.
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Main selling points: inexpensive

Types of maps: political, plus smaller special interest maps

Treatment of physical features: special interest maps include a small physical map of each continent, with shaded relief mountain ranges and use of color to indicate elevation; in the political maps that make up the rest of the volume, major rivers and lakes are drawn and labeled, other physical features are indicated typographically, and a few terrain regimes (deserts, marshes) are indicated with symbols

Use of color: beige maps with shaded borders; special interest maps use colors

Level of detail: world map; regional maps; some individual country maps; a few maps show sub-national political units; major and capital cities; no roads or railroads

System of location: all but the special interest maps include both latitude and longitude and alphanumeric grids; inset locator maps

Projections: continent maps are usually optimal conformal projections and most area maps are Lambert conformal conic projections

Index: 6 pages; page numbers and alphanumeric keys; identifies type of feature (river, lake, desert, etc.)

Special features: four small special interest maps for each continent (topography, population, land use, mineral resources), world flags and country facts, tables of statistics (solar system, Earth's dimensions, oceans and seas, continents, and major islands, mountains, rivers, lakes, and canals)

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

Student Atlas of the World top

GeoNova. 8½" x 11". 112 pages. ©2009.
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Main selling points: good selection of maps at a moderate price, strong section on the United States

Types of maps: political, physical-political, and thematic

Treatment of physical features: shaded relief with color indicating terrain regimes

Use of color: physical-political maps use colors to indicate terrain regimes; political maps use a six-color system to distinguish countries; thematic maps use color as needed

Level of detail: world maps, continent maps, U.S. maps; major rivers, capital and major cities

System of location: longitude and latitude for all but thematic maps

Projections: physical world is Robinson, political world is Winkel, ocean floor is Mercator, world thematic maps vary but are mostly Robinson; projections for continent maps are undefined

Index: 5 pages; identifies physical features; entries keyed to pages with longitude and latitude

Special features: an eight-page map skills section, a two-page introduction to the solar system, several pages on geology, an illustrated glossary of landforms

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

The World Almanac Notebook Atlas: 2009 top

Hammond. 8½" x 11". 52 pages. Revised edition. ©2009.
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Main selling points: three-hole punched for storage in student notebooks, affordable price, and extensive section of national facts

Types of maps: political

Treatment of physical features: indicated typographically

Use of color: a five-color system distinguishes countries

Level of detail: world maps, continent maps and regional maps, U.S. and Canadian maps; major rivers, capital and major cities

System of location: longitude and latitude and alphanumeric grid

Projections: world is Robinson, continent and regional maps are Lambert conformal conic, optimal conformal, and Miller cylindrical

Index: 2 pages; identifies physical features; entries keyed to pages with alphanumeric grids

Special features:world facts and figures and an extensive section of nation facts and figures

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

World Atlas: Scholastic Edition top

UniversalMap. 8½" x 11". 24 pages. Second Edition. Undated.

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Main selling points: inexpensive

Types of maps: physical-political

Treatment of physical features: shaded relief

Use of color: a five-color system distinguishes countries (or, in the U.S. map, states)


Level of detail: world maps, continent and regional maps, a U.S. map, major rivers, capital and major cities

System of location: both longitude and latitude and alphanumeric grids

Projections: world and Asia are Gall projection, most maps are an unspecified equal area projection, and several maps are conformal conic

Index: 5 pages; broken into sections (countries, states/provinces, cities; physical features, and water features); keyed to pages with alphanumeric locators

Special features: world and U.S. fact sheets

Accuracy: includes independent East Timor

 
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