Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Review: Knopf MapGuide: New York

~ When I travelled to New York in the spring of 2008, for the start of my two month stay, I had several ‘indispensable’ guide books in my suitcase, but it didn’t take long before one small book proved to be the most indispensable of all.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, produce a series of city specific “MapGuides” (as they call them), that are compact, filled with information, illustrated with large, fold-out, easy to read maps, and which just as importantly, are very lightweight.

The New York MapGuide runs to just 48 pages, but don’t let that put you off. The designers of these little books have managed to pack a wealth of information into those pages that other publishers would do well to make note of.

You begin with an opening fold-out map of New York which helps you visualise the eight large districts the guide is divided into. At the end of the MapGuide are another four pages of valuable information, handy tips and useful address.

The eight districts with their accompanying fold-out maps are:
  1. Downtown
  2. Lower East Side and East Village
  3. SoHo, Greenwich Village, Chelsea and TriBeCa
  4. Midtown East
  5. Times Square and the Theatre District
  6. Upper East Side
  7. Upper West Side, and finally
  8. Central Park and Harlem.
For each district there is a double-page of addresses listing restaurants, cafés, bars, music venues and shops, followed by a fold-out map for the relevant district with essential attractions and places of interest to see. While the shops, attractions and places of interest are by no means the only ones on offer in New York City, all the main buildings and attractions are listed in the guides or marked on the maps.

The last fold-out consists of transport maps for the Manhattan subway system and Manhattan’s bus services, and four pages of information that include a selection of hotels ranging in price from $70 up to $300 and over.

What I also like about the MapGuide is that despite the brevity of the entries, they still manage to pack all the essential information you need into the space allocated for them – as this entry for the Woolworth Building shows:

Woolworth Building, 233 Broadway (Barclay St). Commissioned by Frank Woolworth for his company headquarters, this building is as big as the empire he create. In 1909 the five-and-dime-store king purchased a piece of land on Broadway and paid for his skyscraper in cash. Four years later the tallest building in the city was opened: an enormous 60-story (792-ft) Gothic structure with a Latin cross-shaped lobby, marble walls, Byzantine-style mosaic ceilings – everything here exalts the virtues of work and prosperity. (New York MapGuide, 2006, Ed.)

There you have it. An encapsulated history of the Woolworth Building in just 79 words and numbers! We learn who commissioned it and when, how long it took to complete and how it was paid for, how tall it is and even something about the architecture and design features of the building. Concise writing at its best.

To complete this small and incredibly useful package, the MapGuide has a Thematic Index. That is, an index listing all the sites and addresses in the guide by theme. This makes it very easy to find restaurants for example, or museums or parks and gardens.

As already noted, this slim guide weighs next to nothing, fits easily into a handbag, backpack, or coat pocket, is easy to use and nowhere near as conspicuous as fighting with the large fold-out Manhattan maps that many visitors seem to struggle with. Nor do you have to lug around large, heavy guide books filled with hundreds of pages of tightly packed information.

As long as you have done the bulk of your research and reading utilising larger publications before your New York visit, and assuming you already know what you want to see in New York City when you set out each day, the New York MapGuide should be all you need to get you through the day in that magnificent metropolis.

Highly recommended.

Note: The above review and quote is based on the 2006 edition of the New York MapGuide.
Click here to buy the 2009 edition of the Knopf MapGuide: New York (Knopf Mapguides).

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