No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control

Review of No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control

Book by Mark Monmonier

Review by Mark Denil

Review of No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control


No Dig, No Fly, No Go is map history. There is a long history of histories, going back to Herodotus and Thucydides (both from the 5th century BCE), and there are many types of histories. There are academic histories (Gibbon and Hegel, from the 18th and 19th centuries, come to mind, as do Harley and Woodward from the 20th) and then there are popular histories. Amongst popular histories, there are, again, two main types. The difference can be characterized by comparing the outputs of two wellknown Canadian authors of popular histories: Pierre Berton and Farley Mowat.

Berton, author of The National Dream (1970) and The Arctic Grail (1988) among dozens of others, was responsible for introducing thousands of general readers to the richness and sweep of Canadian history. Mowat, on the other hand, is a past master storyteller who, as he admitted in a 1968 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio interview, never let the facts get in the way of the truth. He is author of works like Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America (1965) and The Farfarers: Before the Norse (1998), a type of popular history very different from Berton’s.

Mark Monmonier sits firmly at the Berton end of that scale. Monmonier has, since 1982, published over a score of books about maps and cartography, and the overwhelming majority of that output has been targeted primarily at a general audience. Books like How to Lie with Maps (1996 2nd ed.), and Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather (1999) have provided readable and understandable access to what would, for the great majority of the books’ readers, have been an arcane and obscure field of study.

Popular history is far from easy to write, and despite some private sneering by some academic authors who might otherwise envy Monmonier’s audience, most recognize his success at it. Certainly, not every book in his bibliography has been of identical value or interest (to put it diplomatically), and he certainly seems to be a tireless factory of cartographic knowledge, but when he is on his game there is no one who delivers as succinct and easily understood an overview of a complex topic.

No Dig, No Fly, No Go “...explores the momentum and impact of prohibitive cartography across a range of scales and phenomena” (p. 4). Monmonier’s definition of “prohibitive cartography” is perhaps most completely spelled out in his own preview summation of the book’s contents (pp. 4–5):

Chapter 2 [...] focuses on property boundaries and real estate law, [and] looks at land survey systems and land registration practices, while chapter 3, which deals with national sovereignty, limns the marking and adjustment of international borders, the questionable effectiveness of walls and security fences, and the rhetorical role of boundary maps in asserting spurious claims and fictional sovereignty. Chapter 4 turns to colonial ambitions and geopolitics and appraises the boundaries imposed by imperial powers on Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Chapter 5 looks at offshore and maritime boundaries, while chapter 6 examines the implications in the United States of state, county, municipal, special-district, and tribal boundaries. Law and litigation frame chapters 7 and 8, which treat gerrymandering and redlining, often condemned as subtle (or not so subtle) forms of apartheid. Legal restrictions also figure prominently in chapter 9, which examines zoning and environmental protection, and in chapter 10, which explores the use of maps to regulate behavior deemed offensive or socially harmful. Chapter 11 examines the map’s role in protecting air travelers, underground infrastructure, and ethnic minorities like the Kurds in northern Iraq, and chapter 12 looks at satellite tracking, the latest and perhaps most ominous manifestation of prohibitive cartography.

The individual chapters are brief and brisk: situations are described, examples presented and explained, and segues are identified that flow into the next situation and example. Nowhere does it bog down in minutia, and if some particular passage fails to interest a particular reader, s/he need only follow along for a short jaunt before the narrative turns a corner and offers a new prospect. Clearly, No Dig, No Fly, No Go is sketched quickly, but not in such broad strokes as to obscure the places nuance would lurk. For issues breezed over that a reader might care to know better, there are leads to information and to sources, with six pages of “Further Reading” (segregated by chapter) and 387 end notes (an average of just over 35 per substantive chapter). The use of end notes, which banishes the references to a few pages in the back, is symptomatic of the popular format: one seldom wants to break the flow of the narration to fumble about finding the note and ultimately one may just ignore the notes altogether. The practice of using end notes is, while common in popular works, just a bit shady. As Al Franken remarks: “If you are using “footnotes” to lie, make them endnotes” (Franken 2003, p.12). Still, the notes are there when one wants them.

Sometimes, however, the “popular” label might seem to be pasted on to excuse some rather curious grammatical practices. On page 145, at the end of Chapter 9, the author mentions “a Georgia wetlands delineator named, ah, Todd Ball...”. What is this “ah”? Was Monmonier dictating this passage? Using the web URLs in the end notes one finds the man’s name reported as Michael Todd Ball. Is there some implication of a question as to Mr. Ball’s proper name? Even so, why imply it by enshrining a verbal pause? One is reminded of another author notorious for dramatic … pauses.

In at least one instance, No Dig, No Fly, No Go allows Monmonier to go back over some previously trodden ground. Chapter 7: “Contorted Boundaries, Wasted Votes” begins, in fact, with the remark of a reviewer (Berke 2001) of Bushmanders and Bullwinkles (2001) that the older book offers “no clear point of view” (p.104), and the author proceeds forthwith to correct that perceived failing. The ensuing synopsis of the earlier, much lengthier, discussion is brief, sharp, and well-focused, and offers some clear and concise recommendations on electoral redistricting. Here is an instance of a barb hitting home, and the author responding with a small gem of a presentation unencumbered by excessive inclusiveness. It is short and sweet, and hands the audience the conclusion on a platter; a platter sitting on a lean and well-constructed argument.

In some cases, however, the arguments presented are open to some challenge. In Chapter 4: “Absentee Landlords,” the author several times suggests that it was the use of polar projections that determined the “sector” form of Antarctic land claims. On reflection, one wonders if this might be rather putting the cart before the horse. There is plenty of precedent for “sector” colonial claims on unexplored coasts: “from here to there and as far inland as it can go,” so to speak. In North America, this practice explains the phenomenon of the Western Reserve of Connecticut, in what is now Ohio, and it was the general practice in other contemporary British North American land grants. Obviously, on a coast as devoid of major landmarks as is Antarctica, a stretch between declared longitudes is an obvious means to unambiguously delineate claims; the fact that these lines converge inland is more of a happenstance than a planned outcome.

Beside the author’s (relatively innocuous) predilection for anecdotes from his own neighborhood in Upstate New York, there is a clear preponderance of USbased examples throughout No Dig, No Fly, No Go. Certainly, this will make the book more accessible to a predominantly American audience (who tend to ignore most of the world anyway), but it sometimes bypasses useful illustrations of interesting facets of the topic under discussion. In Chapter 6: “Divide and Govern,” the relative rareness of municipal amalgamation in the Northeastern and Midwestern US leaves that issue completely unexplored. Just over the border in Canada, however, the 1990s saw a wave of massive (forced) municipal amalgamations: from Ontario to Nova Scotia broad tracts of territory, with sometimes widely scattered cities and settlements, were forced into so-called Regional Municipalities. These Municipalities can be huge: Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia is over 5,000 square kilometers (over 2,000 square miles); about the size of the province of Prince Edward Island! Such entities offer a counter illustration that could only further Monmonier’s arguments about “sense of place” and other issues. Except, of course, it is not in the US... .

All in all, No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control is a good general introduction to the various issues that fall under that broad rubric of “maps that restrict and control.” It is not exhaustive, it is not complete, and at 242 pages including the index, it does not pretend to be. It is the sort of book from which one might excerpt a passage or chapter in educating a supervisor or in making a pitch. The fact that you can “Draw a boundary on a map, stick a label on it, and people [will] think it’s real” (p.129) may seem obvious to us, but there are a lot of people who have never even considered what that implies. This slim book may help them over it.

Beyond that, there is clearly a place for general, popular treatments of complex subjects. A good overview is always a valuable thing in itself: it is healthy to occasionally take the synoptic view, and to consider how well a general account covers the bases.

Monmonier’s No Dig, No Fly, No Go is brisk and succinct, it speaks from a position, albeit a nonconfrontational one (rare enough these days), and it expounds important cartographic issues in an undeniably popular manner without unduly embarrassing or infuriating a knowledgeable audience. One cannot ask more of any such publication.


Berke, Richard L. “Don’t Know Much Geography: An Examination of How Creative Cartography Affects U.S. Politics,” New York Times, book review section, May 27, 2001.

Berton, Pierre. 1970. The National Dream: The Great Railway, 1871–1881. Random House: Toronto.

Berton, Pierre. 1988. The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818 - 1909. McClelland and Stewart: Toronto. Reprint, 2000, Lyons Press: New York.

Franken, Al. 2003. Lies: and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Dutton: New York.

Gibbon, Edward. 1960. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Harcourt, Brace and Company: New York. Abridgment, Low, D.M.

Harley, J. B. and David Woodward. 1987. The History of Cartography: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, Vol. 1. University of Chicago Press.

Hegel, Georg Willelm Friedrich. 1956. The Philosophy of History. Dover: New York. Trans., Sibree, J.

Herodotus. 1954. The Histories. Penguin: Baltimore. Trans., de Sélincourt, Aubrey.

Monmonier, Mark. 1996. How to Lie with Maps (2nd ed). University of Chicago Press.

Monmonier, Mark. 1999. Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather. University of Chicago Press.

Monmonier, Mark. 2001. Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections. University of Chicago Press.

Mowat, Farley. 1965. Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America. Little, Brown: Boston.

Mowat, Farley. 1998. The Farfarers: Before the Norse. Key Porter Books: Bolton, Ontario. Reprint, 2000, Steerforth Press: South Royalton, Vermont.

Thucydides. 1972. History of the Peloponnesian War. Penguin: New York. Trans., Warner, Rex (1954).


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