Book Review: The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps


by Jessica Maier

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. Pp. vi, 240. Illus., maps, recommended reading. $40.00. ISBN: 022659145X

Mapping the Eternal City

What about the past, and the present, should and could be mapped, and how, let alone best, to do so, are vexed issues in cartographic studies, not least because they emphasize the extent to which there is no perfect map nor unimpeachable desiderata. This includes topics such as perspective, projection, scale, title, nomenclature, key, captions, and so forth.

Jessica Maier, already author of the first-rate Rome Measured and Imagined: Early-Modern Maps of the Eternal City, also from Chicago, approaches Rome’s history through maps, although also deploying other sources, including art and photography. The book is divided into ten chronological sections, Rome Takes Shape; Rome of the Caesars; Rome of the Popes; Rome Reborn; Rome of the Scholars; Rome of the Saints and Pilgrims; Rome of the Grand Tourists; Rome of the Mass Tourists; Rome Enters the Modern Age; and Rome Past, Present, and Future. As is inevitably the case, there is much missing, and also somewhat of a rushed feel to the post-Mussolini years. Post-war renewal, city politics, the economy of Rome, and its crime, are all topics that could have been presented through maps. Yet Maier has so much to cover and what she does tackle is done very well, both in the selection and discussion of visual images and in her considerate and humane prose style. A delight of a book.

The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps is one of several individually important recent atlases (e.g., The Atlas of Boston History, Time in Maps) that also speak to the extent to which cartographic studies have long focused on, and developed high expertise in, many issues that have only recently become more generally fashionable. Other such studies are published frequently with rather indifferent quality, namely issues of meaning and relevance.


Our Reviewer: Jeremy Black, longtime Professor of History at the University of Exeter, is also a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is the author of an impressive number of works in history and international affairs, frequently demonstrating unique interactions and trends among events, including The Great War and the Making of the Modern World, Combined Operations: A Global History of Amphibious and Airborne Warfare, and The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. He has previously reviewed The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-first Century, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, War: How Conflict Shaped Us, King of the World, Stalin’s War, Underground Asia, and The Atlas of Boston History.



Originally published in The Critic, January 15, 2021, this review appears by the kind permission of Prof. Black and The Critic.





Note: The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Jeremy Black   

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