The Sub-Saharan Africa Map Book

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Book Review

The Sub-Saharan Africa Map Book
Redlands, CA: 2014. 96 p. $24.95
ISBN: 978-1-58948-338-5
The Sub-Saharan Africa Map Book, published by ESRI, is a collection of maps and short accompanying essays on themes of conservation, environmental management and sustainable development, education, health and human services, natural resources, urban development and government and utilities. There are 56 topics in all, ranging from postal networks to population dynamics, and from malaria risk to soil maps and urban transportation, contributed by 33 different organizations. It is not an atlas; instead it is a collection of maps and essays on a variety of topics, titled a map book. The purpose appears to be an attempt by ESRI publishing (there is no editor listed) to bring together maps from contributing entities in Sub-Saharan Africa including governments and non-governmental organizations.

The very short preface and introduction does not talk about content of the book, but only about Geographic Information System (GIS) as a tool and ESRI’s presence in Africa. The title is misleading, purporting to be an all-encompassing book on maps of Sub-Saharan Africa; when in fact only a subset of countries and topics represented. The preface and introductory remarks do not bring together what this book is about, but rather it extols the technical virtues of GIS. The book is primarily about GIS work and resultant maps, summarizing a particular project on a particular topic such as Jursidiction Planning in Senegal (p. 2) to Microbial Pollution of the Abidjan Lagoon, (p. 55) with the former project having an area of 197,000 square kilometers, a whole country, and the latter across a mere 120,000 hectares (or 1.2 square kilometers).

Not all the graphics in this book are maps. Several are screen shots of a GIS at work and are illegible as a map. The accompanying text is a summary and is in English, whereas there are many maps that are in French because the spatial coverage of the map or project is in an area where the chief language spoken is French. These maps will not be particularly helpful for the non-French reader.

My chief criticism of this book is that many of the maps lack some of the basic cartographic standards, and none of the maps situate the space into the continent. An inset map locating each project within the continent would have helped bring some uniformity and context into the book. Lot of the maps lack scale information, and while a North arrow is now not necessary as maps are now considered oriented North by default, the lack of a map of the surrounding area does not help the reader in locating or orienting himself into the particular map’s spatial extent. There are many maps that are illegible and not very useful as a graphic to inform the reader.

The maps themselves do not appear to have been modified in any way to conform to some uniform presentation so the reader can compare across maps in the book. The Abidjan Lagoon map for example, has been printed with software default classifications instead of more logical and legible breaks— a basic modification that could have assisted the reader in grasping the highlighted issue: in this case, levels of water pollution. Another example is the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency map (p. 10-11) where a fairly large map (in print size) is resized to fit the page and renders it virtually useless to the reader. While the point of the entry was to show the entire map, enlarging a few portions of the map to show detail along with the legend would have helped the reader understand the point and purpose of the map.

The book serves as a compilation of sample projects from entities that are using GIS for their work and as such give you a sense of the organizations involved and could be a reference for students who want to pursue further research. Africa is a region where literature on contemporary mapping is sorely needed—and as such this book can help reduce the paucity of resources for contemporary Africa. The quality of the editorial work and indeed many of the maps in the book is wanting—this is not an important work, but can serve as another resource for Sub-Saharan Africa as a map reference book.

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