When Ian Wright launched the Brilliant Maps Twitter account and website back in 2014, to share his favourite cartographic finds, he had little inkling that it would prove such a hit. Five years later, with almost 100,000 social followers and millions of annual visitors, he is left in little doubt about the universal appeal of a good map.
Now, dozens of the 350 he has unearthed and written about have been collated in a book, Brilliant Maps: An Atlas for Curious Minds. Here are a few of his favourites.
The vast populations of China, India and Indonesia are strikingly demonstrated in the map above.
Canadian-born Wright believes the fascination with maps lies in their ability to “very quickly and simply convey a huge amount of information.”
But he warns that maps can easily be used to mislead. “For example, the Mercator projection, which remains among the most popular choices for creating maps, makes northern countries (especially those in Europe) look much bigger than they actually are, while Africa looks much smaller,” he says. “This subtly feeds into the idea that the larger northern countries are somehow more important.”
The global domination of the fast-food chain McDonald’s is shown in this map. Among the countries to have resisted its sprawl are Iceland, Mongolia, Iran, Madagascar, Algeria, Myanmar and Yemen.
Wright’s passion for cartography came after he moved to London in 2010 and began a project to walk the length of every London Underground line, above the ground.
“The goal of the Twitter account was simply to share interesting maps,” he says. “The website followed soon after to provide a way of adding interesting stories, information and my own research.”
At the height of the British Empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink. Include the whole of recorded history and Britain’s global reach looks even more astounding: just 22 countries haven’t seen our troops turn up, flag in hand.
Why do Britons drive on the left? In the Middle Ages the highways of Britain were littered with nefarious characters and those travelling on them were forced to carry a sword for defence. Most of the population were – as they are today – right-handed and travelling on the left, according to historians, allowed carriage drivers and horsemen to fight off any oncoming assailants. This stuck and British road users, along with those in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa, among other, have driven on the left ever since.
Unsuprisingly, the developed world possesses the most elderly populations. Monaco tops the list, with the average (median) resident aged 53.1 years. It is followed by Japan (47.3), Germany (47.1), Italy (45.5), Greece (44.5), Slovenia (44.5), San Marino (44.4), Andorra (44.3), Austria (44) and Lithuania (43.7). For the UK, the figure is 40.5, while for the US it is 38.1.
At the other end of the spectrum is Niger, where the average resident is just 15.4 years old.
The majority of countries – more than 100 – have never elected or appointed a woman to the top job. They include Spain, Japan, Italy, The Netherlands, Egypt, Belgium, Mexico, Russia and, of course, the US.
The above map shows average height around the world. The Netherlands is number one, while Denmark, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Norway and Croatia make the top 10. Indonesia, Bolivia, The Philippines, Peru, Vietnam, Nepal and Sri Lanka, meanwhile, are among the shortest states.
As incredible as it sounds, between 63m and 274m sharks are killed by humans every single year. Just seven to 10 humans are killed by sharks.
Wright says this map remains among his favourites. “It’s simple yet striking,” he says. “Humans are terrified of sharks, but when you look at the numbers I think we have it completely backwards. We should be horrified at the way we treat and kill sharks.”
For information, see brilliantmaps.com. Need more? Check out 15 fascinating maps that will change the way you see the world, compiled by Telegraph Travel.