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History China

Mr Selden's Map of China

Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer

by (author) Timothy Brook

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Sep 2013
China, Historical Geography, Historical
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2013
    List Price

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Selected for The Globe 100 Books in 2013.

A fascinating work of history, biography, cartography, and literary mystery, Mr Selden’s Map of China unlocks the secrets behind a recently discovered map of China like no other of its time.

In 1659, a vast and unusual map of China arrived in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It was bequeathed by John Selden, a London business lawyer, political activist, former convict, MP, and the city’s first Orientalist scholar. Largely ignored, it remained in the bowels of the library, until called up by an inquisitive reader. When Timothy Brook saw it in 2009, he realized that the Selden Map was “a puzzle that had to be solved”: an exceptional artefact so unsettlingly modern-looking it could almost be a forgery. But it was genuine, and what it has to tell us is astonishing. It shows China, not cut off from the world, but a participant in the embryonic networks of global trade that fuelled the rise of Europe — and now power China’s ascent. And it raises as many question as it answers: How did John Selden acquire it? Where did it come from? Who re-imagined the world in this way and, most importantly, what can it tell us about the world at that time?

Like a cartographic detective, award-winning author and historian Timothy Brook has provided answers. From the Gobi Desert to the Philippines, from Java to Tibet, and into China itself, Brook uses the map to tease out the varied elements that defined this crucial period in China’s history.

About the author

Timothy Brook is the award-winning author or editor of twelve books on China, including Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement and Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839–1952. He is the editor of a six-volume series on China published by Harvard University Press, and held the Shaw Chair in Chinese Studies at Oxford. He is Professor of History at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Timothy Brook's profile page


  • Commended, Globe and Mail Top 100 Book

Editorial Reviews

An engagingly written, insightful look into just how fluid perceptions and realities have been in both the past and the present.


...Brook is a true practitioner of the broad, rich and currently endangered concept of the humanities.

Globe and Mail

The definitive study of the singular Selden Map...The scholar will appreciate the level of detail, breadth of analysis, and ingenuity in Brook's ability to expound such a wealth of history from a single document.

Publisher's Weekly

Brook's story is sprinkled with passages and general insights that are a delight to someone who appreciates language, and that serve to elevate the book from being overly technical and narrow. The story is peppered with amusing observations on human nature that bring it alive...

Literary Review of Canada

Brook offers many fascinating characters...

Toronto Star

A work of exuberant scholarship...An infectious, satisfying exercise in intellectual doggedness.


Brook is learned and lucid and...he writes with a verve rare in academic historians.

Winnipeg Free Press

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