I don't normally buy a book I haven't seen, but in 1981 I made an exception on receiving in the mail a circular for Atlas of Canada
, published by The Reader's Digest Association (Canada) Ltd. in conjunction with the Canadian Automobile Association. I ordered it at once because, years before, I had been an editor and then a publisher of atlases, and in the latter capacity had had discussions with the Reader's Digest people in Montreal about a possible joint publication. The discussions led nowhere, but did make me aware that they had a proper feeling for atlases.
I wasn't disappointed; this superb atlas (hereinafter referred to as 1981) has been a constant companion and a very present help. Now along comes Reader's Digest Atlas of Canada (Reader's Digest Association, 176 pages, $49.95 cloth). Though many of the same people worked on it, including the editor (Andrew R. Byers), it is nowhere described as a second edition: neither in the book (hereinafter referred to as 1995) nor in the accompanying publicity is the existence of 1981 acknowledged. One piece goes so far as to say that "the editors of Reader's Digest Books have.surpassed any previous attempts." In fact this attempt is surpassed by their own previous one.
The introductory sections, "A Nation of Superlatives" and "Facts about Canada", are essentially the same in the two books, with some updating in 1995. But the most important section, "Maps of Canada", has suffered from perhaps inevitable economies. Consider: in 1981 it had forty-seven two-page maps (announced in the introduction as forty-eight). In 1995 it has twenty-seven (announced in the introduction as twenty-eight). The resulting loss of scale is a serious loss. As a random example, in the 1995 Index of Populated Places there are ten names from Ottawa to Ouellette, Ont.; in 1981 there are twenty-three. The 1981 map showing Cape Breton Island at a scale of 1: 625,000, with relief indicated by shading, positively invites one to go and see it. The 1995 map at the substantially smaller scale of 1: 800,000, with no indication of relief, makes it look like a displaced bit of prairie. Roads are overemphasized, and the over-use of boldface type makes each map look more cluttered than its 1981 equivalent, though it actually labels fewer places. To be fair, there are some improvements: the adjacent parts of the United States were shown in 1981 as totally unoccupied, which we know is not the case; and 1995 has added town plans, though I have some doubts of their real usefulness.
Understand me: I do recommend this book, but don't lay out $49.95 plus GST for it until you have scoured the secondhand bookshops for its illustrious predecessor.
I. M. Owen