With his second book (after Brainiac, which I enjoyed very much), Ken Jennings has established himself as being, like Susan Orlean, a writer who can take subjects I didn’t think I was deeply interested in and make them fascinating to me. Maphead is a book about maps and people who are fascinated with them. I learned to read highway maps on family vacations at a young age and have always enjoyed looking at maps, though I don’t think I’d qualify as a full-fledged “maphead” in comparison to even some of the milder enthusiasts in Jennings’ book.
Jennings explores the history of maps from the earliest written maps all the way up to Google Earth; he talks to rare-map dealers and buyers, attends the National Geography Bee, and dips into the world of compulsive geocachers. He interviews people who make it their life’s work to visit the highest point of elevation in every one of the 50 states of the US, and folks with various other geographic obsessions. The writing is always funny and interesting. If you’re at all interested in maps and geography you should read this book, and you’ll probably be able to up that from “interested” to “intrigued” by the time you finish (but not to “obsessed,” because after reading this, you’ll know what the real obsessed folks look like).