Atlas of the World
A lot has happened to our world since 1990, when the National Geographic Society last published a fresh edition of its vaunted Atlas of the World. The Inuit gained their own territory in Canada, Nunavut. In India, Bombay reverted to its precolonial name, Mumbai. The Mississippi Delta shrank considerably as the river deposited less silt. And more than a dozen national parks sprang up throughout Eastern Europe—to mention only a handful of the multitudinous changes that followed the end of the Cold War.
To reflect these transformations, the Society's 39-person carto.graphy division has created this seventh-edition book of maps, published last October. (The hardcover version costs $125; soft.cover, $100; 888-225-5647.) The revised appendices include everything from the latest rainfall records to translations of indigenous place-names (you won't fear leaving the Egyptian coast for B”r Sahara when you see that "b”r" translates to "spring" or "well"), and the current, 134-page index is still the largest of any American atlas.
But this is no mere update. The atlas also adds dozens of plates and proprietary satellite images—the most stunning of which shows the swirling vortex of hurricane Mitch. Newly included are illustrated maps of world biodiversity and the solar system, a two-page spread of islands in the Pacific, and coolest of all, extensive shading to accentuate the shapes of mountains and valleys. It took one computer artist a full year to paint terrain relief on every plate.
In trying to carry the whole world, the seventh edition stumbles over the limitations endemic to most every comprehensive atlas: a market-driven bias toward giving North America and Europe more than their share of coverage, as well as limitations of space. The Society's obsessive labeling of nearly every last hamlet results in 140,000 place-names—a nominal blizzard that occasionally obscures highways and interrupts passenger railways. And despite heroic efforts to keep pace with important geographic changes, a few minor anachronisms slipped through: After the book went to press, surveyors went and added seven feet to the official height of Mount Everest, which now stands at 29,035, and lowered the Dead Sea by ten feet. But these are trifles considering that this volume is as much a work of art as a work of reference. —MARK MONMONIER
Contax TVS III
When professional photographers leave for holiday and want stunning snaps without the hassle of a Hasselblad, they look for a camera like the new Contax TVS III ($1,550; 800-526-0266). Its ingeniously minimal con.trols—two buttons and a dial—can capture a face backlit by alpenglow and produce crystalline results better than virtually any point-and-shoot, if not most SLR cameras.
Turn a knurled wheel on the shoulder of the svelte titanium body and a small door lowers to reveal the lens. You can select automatic exposure or aperture priority, as well as auto or manual focus—a rare .freedom among pocket cams. The fill-flash works well even in harsh midday light. And since any metering system—including the TVS's center-weighted version—will turn snowfields into smudgy gray, you'll appreciate the camera's exposure-compensation dial, which allows you to "add" (or "subtract") light in increments equivalent to a third of an f-stop. The astoundingly fast 16-second to 1/1000-second shutter handles tenebrous jungle and effulgent vistas alike.
The real reason to spend $1,550 on a point-and-shoot camera, however, is the TVS's superior Carl Zeiss lens. The 30.Ð60mm focal length doesn't measure up to shameless zooms, and the minimum f/3.7 aperture isn't incredibly fast, but the glass itself is the finest in the world. Zeiss's uncompromised manufacturing and meticulous coatings create stunning contrast, clarity, and color saturation. In other words, the TVS III isn't simple, just simple to use. —WILLIAM HALLBERG
After months of polishing the handholds at your climbing gym, you're dying to get out and hit your favorite bouldering spot. But maybe your hands aren't quite as leathery as you'd like and maybe, well, maybe you'll fall smack on your back. Which is why you need a cushioned bouldering mat. The best ones have a scuff-proof cover, fold up for portaging, and join two types of foam padding. The combination is critical: Land on pure closed-cell foam over uneven ground and you might twist an ankle; surf into unadulterated open-cell foam and you'll bottom out and maybe bruise a heel. Herewith, our three favorite crash pads.
The Misty Mountain Highlander ($150; 828-963-6688) mates automobile floor carpet with a ballistics-nylon shell. It dissipates the impact of a fall effectively, and as a bonus you can use the mat to brush desert dust from sticky-soled climbing shoes. The 12-square-foot pad consists of three inches of open-cell foam atop 3/16 of an inch of closed-cell foam, and folds taco-style to carry as a backpack.
With four times the typical volume, the Evel Pad by Cordless ($300; 801-486-5955) will tempt boulderers everywhere to nap on the job. Five pillowy inches (4.5 open-cell, a half-inch of closed cell) take the terror out of the most nerve-racking highballs, and at six feet by 4.5 feet it really is like a bed—with 1,000-denier Cordura sheets. Not surprisingly, it's an ungainly behemoth that barely folds. Best for bouldering close to the car.
Fold the eight-square-foot Metolius ($109; 541-382-7585) in half, ditch the removable backpack straps, and you've got a rock rat's briefcase. The pad is three inches thick, a third of which is closed-cell foam. A nifty hinge in the 600-denier Cordura shell allows it to fold like a book and slip into a cramped trunk. Aluminum latches fasten to webbing loops even after you've fallen on them all day. —WILLS YOUNG
Photos: Clay Ellis