You can say things with maps, things that have so much more impact because they are visual.
For instance, say New Jersey is much smaller than Alaska, and it's a meaningless bit of trivia. Fill an outline of Sarah Palin's home turf with 77 images of the Garden State, and you get a graphic representation of just how small we are compared to the nation's largest state.
Talk about wetlands and you have the makings of a dull conversation. But, look at a tan map with large concentrations of blue scattered throughout, and you begin to appreciate just how fragile the environment of this beautiful, densely populated place really is.
That's what keeps readers flipping through "Mapping New Jersey," a 240-page book just released by Rutgers University Press that's crammed full of maps and graphics on topics ranging from early tribal settlements to the correlation between gun ownership and suicide rates in the state's 21 counties.
The book is also a trove of historic maps, from 17th-century maps showing the first European explorations of the Garden State to beautifully printed maps produced in the late 19th century.
The book is the result of almost five years of work by a team of historians and cartographers who sought out historic maps and researched and created their own informational maps and graphics.
While the book traces the state's history and development, the project's design was based on a very modern consideration. Early on, the group decided the book should avoid using well-known historic maps that were readily available to the public via the Internet.
"We wanted to use maps to tell the story of the state and show people things that they couldn't get online," said Maxine N. Lurie, a historian at Seton Hall University who was one of the book's editors. "We were looking for historic maps that you didn't see very often and also to create new maps that would show things in different perspectives."
Lurie's work on the project was much like a treasure hunt, as she combed state libraries, universities and historic societies in search of old maps that had been forgotten and lost through the passage of time.
"I think some of them are like art," Lurie said. "Some of the 17th- and 18th-century maps are just beautiful. Kings and queens used to hang maps on their walls, not only for information, but also because they are gorgeous to look at."
Among the most beautiful maps in the new book is a 1640 map depicting the locations of New Sweden settlements around the Delaware Bay.
Michael Siegel, a cartographer from Rutgers University, was charged with creating the new maps for the book based on ideas the group brainstormed.
"Ironically, the ideas that I did mental eyerolls over turned out to be some of the most fun and engaging maps in the book," Siegel said.
For example, a series of maps showing the change in area codes over the years has proven to be wildly popular with people who have seen the book.
"People look at the maps and still have a strong reaction. They still remember when they switched over to a new area code," he said.
"We tried to go back as far as we could on lots of topics. That was a problem because there are lots of gaps. It took a lot of work and research," he said. "Emotionally, the section on health topics was brutal. I just spent weeks reading old board of health reports, sifting through these topics of loss and sickness."
Other topics made Siegel look at his surroundings in a new way. One map shows the centers of clay, ceramics and glass production in the state.
"It was one of those topics that seemed so plain and simple, but then I was awed by these companies that were turning out millions of bricks every year. After I made that map, I couldn't go anywhere without seeing all these brick buildings. It had never registered with me that there were all these brick buildings because they were making all these millions of bricks," he said.
While the book is filled with maps of every type and description, one of Lurie's favorites in the book is an old standby.
"I like the map that shows the road network in the state. It just looks like the arteries of New Jersey," she said.
E-mail Steven V. Cronin:
'Mapping New Jersey'
Edited by Maxine N. Lurie and Peter O. Wacker. Cartography by Michael Siegel
Rutgers University Press, $39.95