One book I've enjoyed this year is The Eternal City: Rome as Idea and Reality, by Jessica Maier. Published by University of Chicago Press. It was just released this month (11/4). While I mostly read fiction, I enjoy many non-fiction topics such as history, how-to, and art, and in many respects, The Eternal City covers all these categories.
The concept of learning from maps is unusual as most history books are straight forward chronological records. However, as author Maier shows through her map technique Rome's population through every age has had its own perception of their city and its purpose. It shows how the change in time, populations, and their ideas and beliefs also affect history. Rome's citizens essentially changed not only the physical appearance of Rome but also overlapped those changes with the past. The city and its structure have changed both physically and spiritually over time; indeed, different cities have emerged during Rome's long history, but each was built on the past.
Images and ideas take the reader from the beginnings of Rome to the time of the Ceasars, to the age of popes, through Rome's decline and recovery, and now its tourist period. The Eternal City shows how the city's population changed through time and how that changed Rome. Surprisingly, each era's maps show not only the physical changes but also society's perceptions about the city.
Rome, as one of the world's oldest continuing cities, has a long progression of maps. Some have a similarity to today's concept of maps, but not as directionally precise, and historical maps are often affected by the maker's era and purpose. Others are visual landscapes of the city, which in part, also serve as maps. The book's maps, visual images, and photographs are beautiful and insightful and tied to each age's beliefs, prejudices, and sense of humanity.
In the age of global warming, this book, in some sense, is also a warning. People are creative, adaptable, and constantly changing their landscape. This book brings awareness of those changes and of how we need to be aware of them and to be more careful in our choices going forward.
For more reviews please see the following authors' posts: