The Red Atlas

The Red Atlas

How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World

Book - 2017
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Many know that the Soviet Military gathered incredible information during the Cold War, but revealed in these pages is evidence that they secretly, and largely successfully, mapped the entire world. In addition to city maps of Oxford, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Shanghai, the Soviets had street level maps of Pontiac, MI, Bristol, PA, Watertown NY, and Galveston, TX. They knew certain parts of the world down to the level of individual buildings. Maps that were recovered from this unparalleled endeavor have details that aren’t on domestic maps made around the same time, things like the precise width of roads, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, and the types of factories?information that would be virtually impossible to find out without eyes on the ground. In Cambridge, Soviet maps from the ’80s include a scientific research center that didn’t appear on Ordnance Survey maps till years later. And a map of Oxford at the same time shows Oxford University Press as a building of interest. Another map of a German city shows the distance from which one can see a lit cigarette, or hear a twig crack. The map of San Diego includes objects of obvious strategic interest?including a submarine base, a naval airbase, ammunition depots, factories that make aircraft and weapons?but also includes notes on public transportation, communications systems, and the height and architecture of buildings in various parts of town. This book presents a catalog of these maps and reveals the never-before-told story of the world’s most comprehensive mapping endeavor and, arguably, some of the world’s most intriguing maps. Starting with the discovery of the maps in Estonia, and their journey to libraries and private collections the world over, this work illuminates the skills, omnipresence, and ambitions of the Soviet military at the height of its era of espionage.

Nearly thirty years after the end of the Cold War, its legacy and the accompanying Russian-American tension continues to loom large.  Russia’s access to detailed information on the United States and its allies may not seem so shocking in this day of data clouds and leaks, but long before we had satellite imagery of any neighborhood at a finger’s reach, the amount the Soviet government knew about your family’s city, street, and even your home would astonish you. Revealing how this was possible, The Red Atlas is the never-before-told story of the most comprehensive mapping endeavor in history and the surprising maps that resulted.

From 1950 to 1990, the Soviet Army conducted a global topographic mapping program, creating large-scale maps for much of the world that included a diversity of detail that would have supported a full range of military planning. For big cities like New York, DC, and London to towns like Pontiac, MI and Galveston, TX, the Soviets gathered enough information to create street-level maps. What they chose to include on these maps can seem obvious like locations of factories and ports, or more surprising, such as building heights, road widths, and bridge capacities. Some of the detail suggests early satellite technology, while other specifics, like detailed depictions of depths and channels around rivers and harbors, could only have been gained by actual Soviet feet on the ground. The Red Atlas  includes over 350 extracts from these incredible Cold War maps, exploring their provenance and cartographic techniques as well as what they can tell us about their makers and the Soviet initiatives that were going on all around us.

A fantastic historical document of an era that sometimes seems less distant, The Red Atlas offers an uncanny view of the world through the eyes of Soviet strategists and spies.
 


Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2017
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780226389578 (hardcover)
022638957X (hardcover)
Branch Call Number: 912.47 DAV
Characteristics: xiii, 234 pages : color illustrations, maps (chiefly color) ; 24 cm

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