The 10 Best World Atlases

Updated November 27, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best World Atlases
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We spent 40 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. Broaden your mind and your horizons with one of these world atlases that contain information on geography, geopolitics and environmental impacts. We've included editions suitable for children through to more detailed and complex books great for any scholar. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best world atlase on Amazon.

10. DK Publishing Reference

The DK Publishing Reference features digitally-generated, terrain-modeled maps and landscapes, which adds a modern flair to geography. The layout is not very user-friendly, though, and it can be difficult to find specific information.
  • shows recent flag changes
  • data on the emergence of south sudan
  • overly heavy and bulky
Publisher DK Publishing Reference
Model n/a
Weight 5.8 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

9. Oxford's New Concise

Oxford's New Concise was published at the end of 2015 and contains more than 100 pages of up-to-date political and topographical maps, including maps of the ocean floors. There is also an expansive index with over 50,000 items to make referencing it quicker.
  • interesting census information
  • map text is easy to read
  • needs more detailed country info
Publisher Oxford's New Concise
Model n/a
Weight 4.4 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

8. Collins Complete Edition

The Collins Complete Edition presents an extensive view of the world with breathtaking images and detailed content. There is also quite a bit of useful information about how the planet is made up and how it works, all of which is enhanced by fact boxes.
  • covers a wide range of world issues
  • dictionary of geographical facts
  • map lettering is very fine and small
Publisher Collins Complete Editio
Model n/a
Weight 4.6 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

7. Rand McNally Goode's

Rand McNally Goode's is one of the most widely used educational atlases around. It features detailed coverage of all of the continents, using digitally produced reference maps, and contains a lot of information on deforestation, polar ice fluctuations, and sea level rises.
  • good coverage of developing nations
  • highly legible color palettes
  • some of the statistics are dated
Publisher Rand McNally Goode's
Model n/a
Weight 2 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

6. The Map Book

The Map Book is different from many other atlases in that it isn't supposed to be a reference book for current times. Rather it is, as the name implies, a collection of maps that span history and show the cartographic progress of civilization.
  • contains many unique maps
  • mini essays by historians
  • appeals to all types of people
Publisher Walker n Company
Model n/a
Weight 4.9 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

5. National Geographic Atlas 10th Edition

The National Geographic Atlas 10th Edition has nearly a century of rich history behind it. It boasts dual page maps and lots of informational graphics about important world themes, such as urbanization, human migration, population trends, and climate change.
  • comprehensive political maps
  • makes a great table centerpiece
  • dedicated section on outer space
Publisher National Geographic Atl
Model n/a
Weight 10.5 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

4. Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska's Maps

Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska's Maps is full of quirky illustrations that makes it fun for children to learn about the world. It is easy enough for kindergartners to flip through and be entertained, but detailed enough for a ten-year-old to learn from.
  • shows places of historical interest
  • full of engaging facts
  • doesn't include every country
Publisher Big Picture Press
Model n/a
Weight 2.5 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. Oxford Atlas of the World

Updated annually, the Oxford Atlas of the World guarantees users the most up-to-date information, so if you are using it for scholarly research, this is a smart choice. It is full of crisp, clear cartography and includes 18 pages of images sourced from NASA's Landsat 8.
  • lists intriguing world statistics
  • excellent resource for travel
  • graphs on the world's water supply
Publisher Oxford Atlas of the Wor
Model n/a
Weight 7.5 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

2. National Geographic Collegiate

The National Geographic Collegiate has two opening spreads that teach about GPS mapping to help the reader better understand how new data is collected. A fixed scale for physical, political, and regional mapping within each continent makes data comparison easier.
  • large reference index
  • valuable information on topography
  • presented in an organized manner
Publisher National Geographic Col
Model n/a
Weight 3.4 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. Times Comprehensive

The Times Comprehensive is a work of cartographic excellence. It is the same book as used by numerous government agencies around the world, including the United Nations, so you can rest assured that the information contained within is accurate.
  • sub-ice map of the antarctic
  • illustrated current issues section
  • conservation area maps
Publisher Times Comprehensive
Model n/a
Weight 12.9 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

How to Choose the Best World Atlas for You

Before choosing a world atlas, it's important to know ahead of time where your interests mainly lie.

Are you more concerned with where things are? Or are you more interested in statistics--in the climatic, economic, religious, and social differences between countries?

Or perhaps you need a world atlas that teaches you how to make maps, or one that fascinates your 10-year-old with beautiful pictures of Mount Fuji and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Some world atlases focus heavily on political maps--maps that show borders, the locations of cities, major highways, and bodies of water. Some are littered with info-graphics about air pollution with bright colors highlighting places like Beijing and New Delhi. Others are designed to help kids learn to read with easy-to-understand charts about literacy rates.

Some even have an agenda, reminding you at every possible turn of the page of the ongoing effects of climate change, regardless of whether or not you support the idea.

Although no two world atlases are the same, they do share a common trait: they aren't exactly cheap. So before dropping upwards of $100 on a weighty tome that might not have all the information you are looking for, or might prove inaccessible to younger family members, don't forget to take a closer look at which is which.

Why is Greenland so Big and Africa so Small?

Many of you may recognize this map as the one that adorned your classroom wall in grade school. Behold, the Mercator projection--the most well-known yet least accurate world map of them all in terms of scale!

But what do you mean, least accurate in terms of scale?

Allow me to explain.

The world is a ball, not a sphere, but a kind of acne-riddled kickball that caught cooties at an early age. It's covered in scars we call canyons and bumps we call mountains. Now take one of those mountains, take one lone zit, and stretch it out until it's as big around as your entire face. Fortunately for us, that's not how the world actually works.

But that's what Mercator did. He took the North and South Poles, the smallest circles on the globe, and stretched them out until they were as fat around as the equator.

So now when we look at a map we think Greenland, which is near the North Pole, is almost as big as Africa, which is on and around the equator, even though Africa is almost ten times larger than Greenland.

Again, "the map is not the territory."

From Titan to King to Collection

Originally compiled by Italian cartographer Pietro Coppo between 1524 and 1526, the first known collection of equal-sized maps depicting regions of the world remained unpublished despite Coppo's efforts. It was not until 1570 when Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer, compiled his own collection of maps and successfully published them as Theatrum Orbis Terrarum ("Theater of the World"), thus earning Ortelius the title of creator of the first modern atlas.

However, the term "atlas" itself did not enter the modern geographer's lexicon until 1595 when Ortelius' Flemish contemporary, Gerardus Mercator (whose famous Mercator projection can be found in classrooms worldwide), published his own collection of maps in direct competition with Ortelius' Theatrum. He used an image of a globe-holding King Atlas of Mauretania as the frontispiece and named the collection Atlas sive Cosmographicae Meditationes de Fabrica Mundi et Fabricati Figura ("Atlas, or Cosmographical Meditations upon the Creation of the Universe, and the Universe as Created").

According to etymologists, Mercator was the first cartographer to use the name "Atlas" in direct reference to the globe itself, as opposed to the character holding it. Not only that, but he emphasized as much in his choice of frontispiece.

Rather than use the classical image of Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, Mercator instead used a commissioned image of King Atlas, a known astronomer, holding a globe in his hands like a book--as if to imply that King Atlas is reading the "atlas" that Mercator compiled. After all, if a Greek mythological Titan can carry the world on its shoulders, then why can't a collection of maps do the same? For Mercator, the collection is the Titan.

And to top it all off, due to the unwieldy length of the collection's original title, readers of the English translation of 1636 dubbed the book simply Atlas, thereby completing the transition from "Atlas," the Greek mythological Titan, to "atlas", a collection of maps.



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Last updated on November 27, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.


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