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Nigel Rees is the European Research Officer and editor of the European Review based at the Trade Union Studies Centre at South Thames College, London. Here he reviews The Social Atlas of Europe by Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling & Benjamin Hennig,Policy Press. Bristol : 2014. Price £24.99
‘Maybe we are all prospective migrants. The lines of national borders on maps are artificial constructs, as unnatural to us as they are to birds flying overhead. Our first impulse is to ignore them’. This quote from Mohsin Hamid, author of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ has been taken to heart by Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig in their innovative new book of maps, ‘The Social Atlas of Europe’. Using cutting-edge cartographic techniques they aim to show a ‘Europe of Regions’ instead of a ‘Europe of nation-states’. Over 175 times they stretch and shade the familiar outlines of the EU and associated countries to draw comparisons between Turkey and Switzerland (economic growth) Ceuta and Sicily (poverty risk) and Birmingham and Berlin (share of agriculture in the economy). Using two base maps which resize first EU Member States and their neighbours, and then the regions within those borders, according to their population, the book succeeds in graphically representing statistics and survey answers such as ‘Youth unemployment’ and ‘Democracy: is it the best political system?’. The best maps hammer home facts such as the rise in youth unemployment since the economic crash with an enormous Spain and a non-existent Germany distorting the shape of the continent but there are problems when the overall statistic illustrated is small e.g. the 1% of Europeans who ‘disagree strongly’ with democracy. Perhaps a larger drawback is the age of some of the data on which maps are based, counting $2-a-day income between 2004 and 2008 would seem to produce a very different result from post-crisis statistics. However the authors can be forgiven if a two-sentence explanation of the difficult concept of Purchasing Power Parity is not the clearest and for minor typos such as the surname of the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet being used for that of the father of the EU Jean Monnet. The same dedication page reminds us of the real consequences of some of the developments mapped here as it references the murder of Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas by neo-Nazis, surely an indirect victim of the decline of Greece’s economy illustrated by map 9.096.