Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more Atlas Roundup
Each spring Reference Books Bulletin provides updated information on current, recommended atlases. The following sources are recommended for public, academic, and high-school libraries, based on currency, quality, cost, and availability. The recommended titles are listed by type, and the purchaser may choose within types depending on individual preferences or needs.
Expert advice on how long to keep atlases ranges from three to seven years, purchasing new ones more often if there have been major changes. Previous editions should be weeded from the reference collection as soon as new editions become available. The old rule of thumb was to buy at least one new atlas every year, but this may not be so easy as fewer print atlases are published. Later in 2010, there will be a new edition of National Geographic Atlas of the World, providing a good opportunity to freshen the collection.
The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World.
12th ed. 2008. 544p. HarperCollins, $285 (9780061464508).
This is still the pinnacle of atlases. Maps are now completely digitized, and satellite technology is used in their preparation. The first section contains satellite images of all the continents followed by essays with numerous photographs, tables, and bar graphs illustrating the state of the solar system and the world. There is new information on biodiversity and climate change. As was the case in earlier editions, the map section begins with Oceania, followed by Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America, Antarctica, and the oceans of the world. Many countries have more than one map.
Great World Atlas. 5th ed. 2008. 492p. DK, $100 (9780756639846).
DK’s largest atlas starts with a 36-page introductory section on the solar system, oceans, population, and so on. Physical, political, and resource maps for each continent precede the regional maps. Each regional map is followed by a satellite image of the same region, on the same scale and projection, along with smaller satellite photographs of natural and man-made features and nighttime views. The publisher’s hallmark highly visual treatment is on display throughout, although there is quite a bit of gutter loss.
National Geographic Atlas of the World. 8th ed. 2004. 416p. National Geographic, $99.95 (9780792275435).
The National Geographic Society celebrated its ninetieth year of mapmaking with the eighth edition of this major, comprehensive atlas. Among the changes are a new “Cities” section, with maps, fact boxes, and photographs of 51 world cities, which replaces the useful city-map section for each continent (which had many more maps of smaller cities) in the seventh edition. The heart of the atlas, the maps of continents and countries, shows great cartography, the strength of the NGS. As in previous editions, the Americas are first, proceeding eastward around the globe. The editors admit that North America is given additional coverage because the primary readership is from the U.S. and Canada. Maps are not as colorful as those in other atlases, but the number of place-names is impressive, rivaling The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World.
Atlas of the World. 16th ed. 2009. 448p. Oxford, $80 (9780195393286).
Oxford updates its flagship atlas every year. In addition to world maps, it contains maps for almost 70 cities. Introductory materials consist of world statistics; satellite images; a “Gazetteer of Nations”; and text, charts, graphs, and photographs depicting atmosphere, climate, population, wealth, and more. There is also a glossary of geographical terms. The 14 colors used for elevation make it easy to locate entries. The index uses page numbers and grid squares, but latitude and longitude are also included.
Collins Discovery World Atlas.
2005. 240p. Collins, $30 (9780060818838).
Originally published in Britain in 2004 as the Collins World Atlas Illustrated, this atlas now has a title change and is published in the U.S. by an imprint of HarperCollins in collaboration with the Smithsonian. The atlas has the usual introductory material in two-page spreads on world countries, climate, communications, conflict, and so forth. The pages of the introduction and the prefatory materials for each continent are eye-catching, with thumbprint-sized color photos, boxes of facts, tables, and suggested Internet links. The continent maps are most inclusive for Asia, Europe, and North America, with less than 10 pages for Africa and a few more for South America. Preceding the index are 6 pages of country statistics. This is a good addition to school and public libraries that need a medium-sized atlas at a reasonable price.
Complete Atlas of the World.
2007. 432p. DK, $75 (9780756628598).
DK’s medium-sized atlas has 330 maps produced by British digital map suppliers including Cosmographics. Thematic world maps, charts, and tables are divided by subject—climate, health, language, economics, communication, and so forth. The continent sections start with North America and end with Australasia. For each continent, in addition to physical and political maps, there is a double-page satellite image ringed with small images of different cities or geographical examples keyed to the large map. The majority of city maps, which are really regional maps rather than those of the inner city, are grouped at the end of each continent section. Preceding the index, and following two pages of geographical comparisons, are seven pages devoted to concise information on countries.
Firefly Atlas of North America: United States, Canada, & Mexico.2006. 272p. Firefly, $55 (9781554072071).
Because Philips Cartography is considered one of the best and is used by many atlas publishers, it is not surprising that new atlases appear that look very much like something you have seen before. This is the case with the Firefly Atlas of North America, which is similar to the Oxford Atlas of North America (2005). The Firefly Atlas does not include the cultural, physical, and political maps of the regions. The individual state, province, and city maps are identical except for slight color differences. Firefly arranges the maps by region rather than alphabetically. It includes a full-page map of Greenland that is not in Oxford. Each includes a gazetteer, but Firefly has more photographs of the states and less text. This new atlas is recommended for libraries that do not have the Oxford atlas. It has fewer pages but is $55, compared to $125 for Oxford.
Firefly Great World Atlas. 2006. 256p. Firefly, $39.95 (9781554071210).
Firefly has produced an atlas with cartography by George Philips Ltd., which also does maps for Oxford University Press. Surprisingly, much of the Firefly atlas has the same text and maps that are in Oxford’s Atlas of the World. The introductory material on population, climate, oceans, atmosphere, and so forth, and satellite images of the earth are in many cases identical to those in the Oxford atlas. The Firefly volume also has the “Regions in the News,” which includes the tsunami of December 2004 and the continuing struggle in Iraq. The 128 world maps in Firefly are identical to those in Oxford except the scale is slightly larger and the book itself slightly smaller. The city maps in the Oxford atlas that are included in a separate section and index are not in the Firefly. Nevertheless, small public and school libraries and libraries with a limited budget should consider purchase.
Hammond Concise World Atlas. 5th ed. 2007. 288p. Hammond, $29.95 (9780843709650).
Hammond’s midpriced atlas has 140 pages of maps. There are a number of inset maps and a few pages of maps of metropolitan areas of the world, including some in the U.S. These metropolitan area maps are also included in the Hammond World Atlas, listed below.
Hammond World Atlas. 5th ed. 2008. 464p. Hammond, $59.95 (9780843709674).
The double-page spreads in Hammond World Atlas’ 64-page “Thematic Section” have few atlas features and look more like encyclopedia articles. The “Satellite Photo Section” contains 48 pages of beautiful photography and includes the name of satellite or imaging process, ground resolution, exposure altitude, and date of the image. The most important part of the atlas, the “Map Section,” contains 180 maps. Maps of cities and metropolitan areas are either inset maps or grouped together on a few pages. New thematic pages introduce each continent and cover Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami, among other topics; and current country information has been added to the statistics section. This atlas has actually gone down in price; the previous edition cost $75.
Illustrated World Atlas.
2004. 400p. Reader’s Digest, $49.95 (9780762105366).
Reader’s Digest’s medium-sized atlas contains maps from European Map Graphics Ltd. Previous Reader’s Digest atlases have used Rand McNally or Bartholomew maps. The atlas has 200 pages of maps and a gazetteer of 80,000 place-names. The first 50-plus pages are devoted to weather, migration, resources, communication, and other global topics. The maps are arranged by continent beginning with Australasia and going west to Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Classic atlases, such as Oxford’s Atlas of the World, begin with Europe, and some atlases now put the Americas first. No specific city maps are included—city maps are a feature found in some but not all medium-sized atlases.
National Geographic Family Reference Atlas of the World. 2d ed. 2007. 384p. National Geographic, $65 (9780792255673).
This atlas is a smaller version of the standard National Geographic Atlas of the World. There are both political and physical maps of the continents and the oceans. On each regional map page are also information boxes that give brief data and flag pictures for all nations and territories. Inset maps of all major island nations and territories are also provided. Accompanying thematic maps show population density, land use, and weather averages for the regions. World maps with information on the economy, crops, mining, Internet connectivity, and many other topics are presented with text to explain their significance. New to this edition is a thematic world map on conflict and terror. The Europe section has been expanded from 16 to 27 pages, with new maps for the Balkans, Greece and the Aegean, and the smallest countries, among others.
National Geographic Visual Atlas of the World.
2008. 416p. National Geographic, $100 (9781426203329).
A major publisher of geographic sources has published an atlas with a twist. It has the usual atlas features but emphasizes the more than 850 UNESCO World Heritage sites. The main map section begins with North America and ends with Australia and Oceania. Each continent has physical and political maps and a two-page spread of thematic maps showing energy consumption, population density, economy, climate, water availability, and natural events. Perhaps because of the relative number of heritage sites, there are more regional maps for Africa, South America, and Europe than for North America.
New Concise World Atlas. 3d ed. 2010. 288p. Oxford, $39.95 (9780195393293).
Very similar to Oxford’s Atlas of the World. The introductory section is much smaller, with more photographs and fewer graphs and charts. There are no “Gazetteer of Nations,” no physical maps of the world, and no city maps. World maps are identical, except that in some cases, treatment is condensed. For example, in Atlas of the World, Alaska and Hawaii have their own two-page spread, but here they are squeezed into an inset on the map for the U.S.
World Atlas. 7th ed. 2007. 491p. DK, $50 (9780756631758).
The first edition of this atlas came out in 1999. This edition contains more than 450 maps as well as numerous satellite images and terrain models. A geographical comparisons section offers lists such as the least populous countries (Vatican City is at the top) and richest countries based on GNP per capita (Luxembourg is first; the U.S. is fifth). The political maps are smaller than in some other atlases, making room on the page for text, photos, charts, and thematic maps.
School or Desk Atlases
Concise Atlas of the World. 4th ed. 2008. 384p. DK, $34.95 (9781405328012).
Based on theDK’s World Atlas, this one follows the DK format of having lots of information on every page. In addition to maps of continents, there are numerous regional maps accompanied by graphs, tables, and other supplementary material.
Essential World Atlas. 5th ed. 2008. 264p. Oxford, paper, $24.95 (9780195373868).
Some of the information in this atlas is similar to that in Oxford’s larger Atlas of the World. The Essential has a separate city-map section and fewer maps overall—less than 15 of the U.S. To make the most of limited space, some of the maps are sideways on the page, so, for example, an area from northern Minnesota to southern Texas is displayed on a double-page spread.
Illustrated Atlas of the World. 5th ed. 2004. 192p. Reader’s Digest, $26.95 (9780762105106).
Published by Reader’s Digest with 80 maps by Bartholomew and 30,000 place-names, this atlas provides basic continent and country maps. The atlas is enhanced with color photographs on pages with supplementary maps—population, climate, and so forth. Flags and concise country information are also included.
National Geographic Concise Atlas of the World. 2d ed. 2008. 160p. National Geographic, paper, $24.95 (9781426201967).
Maps in this atlas are similar to those in National Geographic Family Reference Atlas of the World but larger, often covering double-page spreads (with some gutter loss). On the other hand, there are many fewer maps. For Europe, for example, there are one physical and one political map for the entire continent, plus some thematic maps, but no regional or national maps showing individual countries in more detail. Introductory material includes sections on climate, religion, trade, and other topics. An appendix shows average temperatures and rainfall for selected locations.
Compact Atlas of the World. 4th ed. 2009. 192p. DK, paper, $15 (9780756642730).
Described as an atlas for the family, this is a good choice for a library’s circulating collection. There are 60 clear, simple maps. A fact file contains statistics and flags of countries of the world.
Hammond Explorer World Atlas. 3d ed. 2005. 132p. Hammond, paper, $12.95 (9780843708721).
There are 90 pages of maps, with 8 pages devoted to the U.S., and 2 additional pages of U.S. city maps. Also included are country flags and a reference guide.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe