ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Welcome back to All Things Considered. From NPR News, I'm Andrea Seabrook. And now, this breaking news - the world is not flat. It is, in fact, a globe. Thought you knew it already, right? But if you believe most maps of the world, we live on a neat, flat rectangle.

Mr. MARK NEWMAN (Co-author, "The Atlas of the Real World"): Maps can be misleading, absolutely. Your standard map of the world makes the North Pole look huge and the equator look very small. And we just sort of accept it the way it is.

SEABROOK: That's Mark Newman. He is best known for his maps of the Electoral College. They don't look much like the red and blue political maps we saw on election night. Those can be misleading, too.

Looking at big red Montana, you'd think it had more influence than little blue New York, a third of Montana's size. The truth - New York has more than 10 times the number of electoral votes because its population is so much bigger. Here's how Mark Newman solves that problem.

Mr. NEWMAN: The way we do it is, we change the sizes of the states to represent how many people are living in each one. So, a state that has more people in becomes bigger. A state with fewer people in it becomes smaller, and then you'd take that map and color it red and blue. If you do that, then you get a map where you can really tell instantly by looking at it which party won because whichever one has more of their color is the one that won the election.

SEABROOK: Blue in this case. You can take a look at Mark Newman's electoral map, and some others we're going to get to in a minute on our website, npr.org. These warped maps of the world are called cartograms.

Mr. NEWMAN: Cartogram is any map where you change the sizes of countries or states to be in proportion to something that you're interested in. It could be population, for example. In this case, it's population, but it could be many other things as well. It's a useful way of representing data about the world or about a country.

It's a very easy map to read in the sense that, if things appear big, they are important, and if things appear small, they are less important according to whatever particular thing it is you are trying to map.

SEABROOK: Now, you've just put out a book of more than 300 of these cartograms. It's called "The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live." Let's talk about a few of these. Map number 125 is car exports. Tell me what this map shows.

Mr. NEWMAN: This particular map is a map of net exports of cars per person in the country measured in dollars. So, it's a map in which countries appear large if they export a lot of cars and appear small or even nonexistent if they don't export cars.

So, on this map, the most striking feature is Japan, which appears extremely large. It exports a lot of cars. The United States is actually not visible on this map. It does export cars, but it imports more cars than it exports. So, this map, which shows net exports, would say it has zero net exports.

SEABROOK: Well, right next to this in the book is the map of car imports, map number 126. In this one, the United States is suddenly the biggest land mass on the globe. It does not have Mexico and Canada. North America has become only the United States.

Mr. NEWMAN: Exactly, so if you think about it, any country which has net exports of cars is obviously not a net importer, so it won't appear on the imports map and vice versa.

SEABROOK: I have to say, it makes me think. I knew the auto industry was struggling in the U.S., but boy, this makes it look real bad.

Mr. NEWMAN: I think that's one of the great things about these maps. All of the data that we've plotted in these maps is available somewhere. You can go on the Internet, and you can find this stuff for free, and what you'll find is a big table which lists all the countries in the world, and it will tell you how much they import and export cars.

So, the data are there, but most people find it quite difficult to understand just a table of data - certainly I do - and yet, when you put it on one of these maps, it really becomes very clear. Then you can immediately see the scale of what you're talking about. You can see how big the United States becomes on this import map and how big Japan becomes in this export map.

SEABROOK: Do you have a favorite subject for these cartograms?

Mr. NEWMAN: It's difficult to choose a favorite map. Many of the maps in the book are kind of worrying in some ways. For example, map 271 in the book is a map of malaria cases, and you see Africa become this huge thing in the middle of the map, and essentially, all the other countries of the world disappear.

Then you can turn to the map of healthcare spending, so you would think that, where there's a lot of disease, there would be a lot of healthcare spending. But the reverse is actually true on the map of healthcare spending. What you see is that there's extremely little healthcare spending in Africa, doing those almost to invisibility. The U.S. then becomes the largest map on the page, with Western Europe and Japan also being fairly substantial.

SEABROOK: The title of your book, "The Atlas of The Real World," is kind of funny because the maps look so different than what we usually think of as the real world of maps.

Mr. NEWMAN: It's true. The point is that, I think, that there is more things about understanding what the world is about than merely how many acres there are in a country. The maps that we're all used to seeing is really a map that, although it may not do it perfectly, aims to tell you how many acres there are in each country, what's the total size of each country.

And there are many other things that are important from a human perspective. There are many other things which are probably much more important to us than just how many acres a country has.

SEABROOK: Mark Newman, he's a professor at the University of Michigan. He's one of the people behind the website worldmapper.org and an author of the new book, "The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live." Thanks again, Mark Newman, for joining us.

Mr. NEWMAN: Thank you.

SEABROOK: Check out these cartograms we talked about today and a few more that show how the population of the world has changed over time at our website, npr.org.

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