map of a nation

Map of a Nation

A Biography of the Ordnance Survey

‘An endlessly absorbing history’
– The Guardian

Map of a Nation tells the story of the creation of the Ordnance Survey map – the first complete, accurate, affordable map of the British Isles. The Ordnance Survey is a much beloved British institution, and Map of a Nation is, amazingly, the first popular history to tell the story of the map and the men who dreamt and delivered it. The Ordnance Survey’s history is one of political revolutions, rebellions and regional unions that altered the shape and identity of the United Kingdom over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It’s also a deliciously readable account of one of the great untold British adventure stories, featuring intrepid individuals lugging brass theodolites up mountains to make the country visible to itself for the first time.

Map of a Nation was awarded first prize in the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Awards for Non-Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Galaxy Non-Fiction Awards, the Scottish Book Awards, the Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize, and BBC History Magazine’s Book Prize.

Reviews for Map of a Nation

‘This is a brilliant book, and it’s astonishing that no one has thought of writing it before … History at its best.’ – A.N. Wilson, Reader’s Digest 

‘Gripping [story] about the remarkable personalities who initiated the scientific mapping of Britain and their extraordinary feats of skill and endurance … this is the first book of a young historian of whom more will be heard.’ – Max Hastings, Sunday Times 

‘Hewitt tackles the subject exuberantly … the book won me over. The sweep of its history has true grandeur, and the incidentals of the tale are like desirables found in a cluttered antique shop.’ – Jan Morris, The Times 

‘In this endlessly absorbing history, Rachel Hewitt narrates the history of our printed maps from King George II’s “Scotophobic” cartographies to the three-dimensional computerised elevations of today … In her lively and informative narrative, Hewitt highlights the Ordnance project’s legion of draughtsmen, surveyors, dreamers and eccentrics.’ – Ian Thomson, Observer 

‘An extremely handsome and scholarly account of the genesis of the OS map … The next time I am in the Public House (wherever it is) I shall raise a pint to Rachel Hewitt and her band of map-makers.’ – Tom Fort, Sunday Telegraph 

‘This is a solid account of how Britain’s national mapping agency came into being … she is good on the military, scientific and ideological impulses behind the OS and on its enormous appeal to the general public.’ – Sunday Times 

‘A diligent and very detailed book … she has done justice to a neglected subject and to neglected but worthy men.’ – Peter Lewis, Daily Mail 

‘The enthralling story of the creation of the Ordnance Survey map … with wonderful tales of the intrepid individuals who lugged brass theodolites over hill and dale in order to make the country visible for the first time.’ – Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller 

‘An exhaustively detailed study of the life and times of Ordnance Survey maps … there are frequent nuggets of enjoyably recondite information.’ – Gillian Tindall, Literary Review 

‘Tells the intriguing story of how the early productions of the theodolite-lugging surveyors who began the project in the 1790s developed into the digitalised OS of our own times.’ – Giles Foden, Conde Nast Traveller 

‘A remarkable story of human endeavour in the name of Enlightenment values.’ – Claire Allfree, Metro  


‘A fascinating account of British cartography … In a compelling overview, Hewitt discusses how developments in scientific thinking, technological advances and an important dose of Anglo-French collaboration eventually led, in 1870, to the creation of the Ordnance Survey’s First Series, a landmark as significant as The Oxford English Dictionary in shaping how the country thought about itself and its ‘physical and intellectual’ landscapes.’ – Lady  

‘An erudite, meticulously researched and fascinating history.’ – Waterstone’s Books Quarterly 

‘A fascinating narrative… illuminates the process by which our nation redrew itself over a century.’ – Celia Brayfield, The Times 

‘Hewitt’s tale of cartography is pacy and – like the best historical writing – focused on human endeavour rather than dry facts.’ – Sarah Warwick, Liverpool Daily Post, the Yorkshire Evening Post, East Anglian Daily Times, Eastern Daily Press, Newsletter 

‘More hugely impressive historical studies from 2010 which celebrate peaceful pursuits rather than blood and bigotry include Rachel Hewitt’s great study of the British Ordnance Survey, Map of a Nation.’ – Stephen Howe, Independent 

‘A lively, well-written and carefully researched evocation of how the landscapes of Britain (and Ireland) came to be revealed with such dramatic precision.’ – William J. Smyth, Irish Times 

‘In this lively overview, Hewitt explains how over the course of a century developments in scientific thinking, technological advances and a critical dose of Anglo-French collaboration eventually led to the creation of the OS’s First Series in 1870.’ – Emma Hagestadt, Independent

‘A scholarly account of the genesis of the OS map, and a route into the national psyche.’ – Daily Telegraph 

‘this description of the origins of mapping in the UK covers lots of ground … anyone who has used a map and a compass to puzzle their way out after getting lot on Britain’s foggy moorland has cause to thank the painstaking work of the original pioneers.’ – Maggie Hartford, Oxford Times 

‘Within the first few paragraphs the open and engaging nature of Rachel Hewitt’s writing had me captured … How the men of those early years observed that first triangulation and achieved such accurate results will never cease to amaze and this beautifully crafted book is a fitting tribute and long overdue recognition of their achievements … Such authoritative books are rare things and I would recommend to all who have feelings for maps and our UK landscape to take time to read Map of a Nation.’ – John Levell, Caught by the River

‘Anyone whose world has been shaped by the familiar OS maps seriously needs to read this book.’ – Margaret Elphinstone, Sunday Herald  

‘Erudite and compelling … One of Map of a Nation‘s many accomplishments is to show how adventurous and imaginative engineering and mapmaking could – and still can – be. It is readable, informative and its content often unexpected.’ – History Today