cover atlas knowThe book 'Atlas of Knowledge - Anyone Can Map' is remarkable for both content and production. It explores and explains concepts about visualization of complex and large data sets. How you thought about mapping is significantly changed upon reading this book because it not only focuses on the data, but also includes successful methods for visualizing data in powerful, intriguing and insightful ways. Filled with wonderful examples, this book will draw you in and keep you amazed. 

Atlas of Knowledge

Anyone Can Map


Katy Börner

MIT Press

2015 | 224 pages | ISBN: 9780262028813

Reviewed by

Jeff Thurston

The link between visualization and understanding is critical today as a larger number of datasets are growing in size and complexity. This book "describes the power of topical maps, providing readers with principles for visualizing knowledge and offering as examples forty large-scale and more than 100 small-scale full-color maps." Author Katy Börner looks at a systems approach for understanding the science and research into this fascinating topic. 

The Atlas features striking and enlightening new maps from the popular “Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” exhibit that range from “Key Events in the Development of the Video Tape Recorder” to “Mobile Landscapes: Location Data from Cell Phones for Urban Analysis” to “Literary Empires: Mapping Temporal and Spatial Settings of Victorian Poetry” to “Seeing Standards: A Visualization of the Metadata Universe.” She also discusses the possible effect of science maps on the practice of science.

The book is divided into four sections including: 1) Science and Technology Facts, 2)Envisioning Science and Technology, 3) Science Maps in Action and 4) Outlook. The first section argues that a systems approach is needed, one that includes data analysis and mining as well information visualization. The second presentations information and details about gathering, processing and techniques for analytics and interpretation of visualization data. The third section includes 40 full-scale maps that show the results of techniques which are useful to business, science and research decision making. The last section includes information about future trends, outlokks and directions including real-time visualization, data mining and workflow processes. 

The amount of data that is being represented today is large - and continually expanding. Yet, our knowledge and ability to understand it all is moving at a slower pace. This is giving rise to a need for new techniques and methods toward turning data into knowledge. This text eloquently describes and shows the level of illiteracy around the globe and types as well as levels of visual scales of information available. From micro to macro scale, each of these are defined and presented with the observation that systems thinking is warranted and desirable for integrating information and presenting it. 

In production and content terms, this text is fantastic and illuminating with colorful charts, maps and inforgraphics that include an array of information from all kinds of observations and data sets. It does not take long to appreciate the importance of visualization after opening this book, it is filled with graphics that look into variations of human-landscape interactions and the visual storytelling of business processes, environmental processes and engineering development. It might even seem magical on one level - being able to see the world in the many portrayed ways included. 

Topics like Hyper-Streams, Evolving Geography, Collaboration Patterns, Brain Circulation, Diffusion of Reputation and Scientific Revolutions are all included. And their graphical representation helps to explain the conceptual ideas and unique topics covered. The author explains how to set up successful visualization projects and looks closely at Needs-Driven Workflows. Both data gathering and data validation are explained in detail and descriptions for visualizing data and examples are provided. This becomes very intriguing as the author works through examples and describes where certain selections for visualization are used. 

Covering topics normally used by cartographers such as scaling data types, this book also explains the range of visualization types that most mapping texts miss out on - namely kinds of maps, charts, network layouts and tables. Instantiation, linguistic symbols, pictoral symbols, geometric symbols and graphical types are all included. Picture after picture and graphic after graphic all keep the concepts of visual representation front and center. The reader is constantly interested because so much information and explaination is constantly before the eyes. 

The author does not neglect the user needs for visualization and Needs Acquisition explores focus groups, apprentice models, interviews, observations and user mining and modeling among others - all of which form design strategy. The University of California Map of Science is explained in detail, outlining the classification system and details about statistical analysis are examined with graphics. 

The question of time or "When" is explored in detail and the text shows analytical data through time. Temporal visualization types are described as well as flows over space and time. The location of data is not forgotten, and a section on "Where" includes some very creative methods for presenting place in terms of data location and amounts. As might be expected, the visualization of information also includes geospatial data that is heavily map oriented and cartographic principles are included. "What" and "With Whom" are similarly explored and outlined in detail, again, vibrantly and colorfully through unique representations. 

As the book shifts toward Combination representations we begin to see how maps and charts, or graphics and tables are implemented together within a single graphic. It might take a bit longer to understand these kinds of representations, yet, once the reader grasps the concepts the information understanding seems more comprehensive and appreciated for completeness. 

In other cases, interfaces for interacting with objects, diagrams and visual spaces that present information in rooms, on walls and other places is also included. At a time when augmented reality is rising in awareness, these forms of interaction are becoming more popular. The final fourth section of the book is truly fascinating as a double-page spread is used for each page, the left explaining the map or graphic considerations, while the right includes the graphic or maps. 

In summary, the book 'Atlas of Knowledge - Anyone Can Map' is simply phenomenal for the content and production included. The author explains so many concepts and the background to visualization and then supports the discussed concepts with remarkably interesting graphics and colorful mapping. It is hard not to become involved in this book deeply, opening each page with delight and wonderment. How one thought of the world and data prior to reading this book will be changed because the book opens doors to thinking about new ways for seeing and understanding the world. What we thought about maps is forever changed after reading this book. 

This book is a must read. It is simply amazing for the content. Author Katy Börner has put together a remarkable collection of concepts, examples and explanations about visualization of data and the real world we see today. I am certain you will enjoy reading this book and find it riveting with information that you can use in your own projects into the future.