Gary Kamiya has lived in San Francisco since 1971, and though he’s no longer a taxi driver, only now has he set out to “do the knowledge,” as they say in London. Demonstrating his familiarity with every street in what a poet once called the Cool Gray City of Love (Bloomsbury, $27), the Salon.com cofounder has assembled a series of forty-nine views—each a perfectly-realized and expansive essay. Kamiya, who walks and bikes more than he drives, shows his understanding of the region’s plate tectonics and complex weather patterns, its diverse cultures, shifting demographics, history, and much more. Where can you find the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge? What are the great, gone treasures of the city? What was life like for the original Native American inhabitants, the few hundred Yelamu? From Hitchcock’s Vertigo to Fillmore jazz clubs, from the Gold Rush that jump-started the sleepy town to the 1906 earthquake and fire that nearly destroyed it and on to its 1989 Loma Prieta shadow, Kamiya tells the fascinating stories of this endlessly fascinating place. Forty-nine views aren’t nearly enough for these particular forty-six square miles.
In his masterful survey of worlds and world views, the Renaissance scholar Jerry Brotton focuses on some of the most influential cartographic works of all times and places to tell A History of the World in 12 Maps (Viking, $40). Identifying pivotal moments when priorities shifted and crystallized, Brotton discusses Ptolemy’s enduring significance, looks at the rich science and art of 11th-century Islamic maps, presents 15th-century China’s neo-Confucian nonary (3x3) grids, explains Mercator’s—and later—projections of spherical models onto flat planes, and follows the Cassinis’ six-decade-long struggle to map France as a modern nation-state. The stories, personalities, and ideas are vivid, as are the repercussions so many maps have had, such as the violence unleashed by the 1947 line drawn between India and Pakistan. Knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, Brotton shows how maps have inspired and aided many a quest, whether for wealth, land, or power, even as map-makers themselves continue to pursue the elusive goal of objectivity.