Finding the Best Atlas of the World

Every home needs a good world atlas. While MapQuest, Yahoo Maps and Google Maps may have edged out traditional street maps for our directional needs, there will always be a place for a nice hard-cover, full-colored atlas. You can read at-a-glance profiles of different countries or cities, gain travel tips, reference information, teach the kids about other places and cultures or simply explore the world right from your sofa. But which one of the world reigns supreme? This question is a difficult one to answer, but here are some classic selections, as well as some new options to unearth.

One of the most frequently used atlases is Goode’s World Atlas, edited by Edward B. Espenshade, Jr. This pocket-sized book contains a number of high-quality maps from a cache of professional geographers. Another great selection is the National Geographic Road Atlas of the United States, Canada and Mexico, which features, hands-down, the best street maps of North America. The 10th Edition Times map of the World boasts 125 color maps and a quarter of a million place names.

The DK World Atlas is full of entertaining facts, while also providing geographic information about every country in the world. You will also want to add the DK Atlas of World History, which includes maps, timelines, photographs and historical notes, and the DK World Reference Atlas, which has 1 to 6 pages about each country, discussing politics, climate, world affairs, economics, crime, health, media, education and communications.

Sometimes you can find a map the world that reveals the current state of our planet. The State of the World Atlas does just that, displaying the most current statistics, profiles and realities about world politics, economics, food supplies, military power, energy resources, pollution levels and biodiversity. In a nutshell, what a hardcopy atlas of the world delivers, which online mapping lacks, is that historical, worldview of mapmakers and cartographers who take the great time and effort to color code our world and combine data with maps in a sensible way, thus painting the larger picture.

If you are looking for an atlas of American history to inspire the kids, then consider Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley’s “Places in Time: A New Atlas of American History” (for 7-14 year olds), which teaches kids about fascinating stories behind 20 little-known American places using oral narratives, old maps, drawings and contemporary accounts. Don’t forget to get Lynn Kuntz’s “Celebrate the USA: Hands-On History Activities for Kids” (for 8-10 year olds), which will have you playing musical inventions like Ben Franklin or creating liberty wind socks from oatmeal boxes, glues, yarn and paper.

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