The mapman cometh
Barry Oliver meets an entrepreneur who’s produced the world’s most impressive atlas
BIG ideas can take a long time to realise but 20 years seems a bit steep. That’s how long it has taken Gordon Cheers to produce his atlas to end all atlases. But the 35kg monster of his dreams is finally hitting the bookstores. One hopes not literally.
EARTH (at that size it merits the capital letters Cheers demands) has silver-gilded pages and is packaged in hand-bound leather intended to keep out air and prevent pages deteriorating with time. The price tag is suitably large as well: $5000 a copy.
It’s so massive it carries a sticker warning it needs two people to lift it.
Cheers, from Elanora Heights on Sydney’s northern beaches, came up with the idea while working on Penguin’s Explore Australia , but his publishers didn’t want to know. Random House, where he next worked, also took a bleak view. A book of such size and scope would be too expensive to produce.
Cheers, whose previous titles include Microwave Hints , KillerPlants and NaturalDisastersandHowWe Cope , moved on to another outfit, Global Book Publishing, where he says he ‘‘ was allowed to do almost any book I wanted except for this one’’.
Finally he set up his own company, Millennium House, and his grand scheme got under way about 18 months ago with a team of 60 cartographers, 55 writers and 40 editors, with Cheers’s home mortgaged to back the project. But boundaries being such a contentious issue, it was inevitable some feathers would be ruffled. Production was moved to Hong Kong after Chinese printers objected to the treatment of Tibet and Taiwan.
Journey across the world: Stunning images from EARTH , which costs up to $5000 a copy
‘‘ I spent most of my time writing cheques,’’ Cheers says. ‘‘ I wanted a book that people could flick through and take a journey around the world.’’
Will he prove the big publishers wrong and make money? ‘‘ I’ll let you know in a few more months,’’ he tells me. But Cheers says profit is not the real reason for publishing a book such as EARTH. ‘‘ You do it because you really love the idea and the concept and the challenge of putting it all together. All publishers are trying to produce a book that will be around for centuries.’’
To aid its longevity, EARTH is being published in a limited edition of 3000, a silver collection of 2000 (each costing $5000) and a gold collection at an undisclosed price. After printing, all plates will be destroyed. Cheers says the book will be around in 500 years only if it is cherished, and making it rare is one way of doing that. He believes it could be the last big atlas to be published. In future, maps will be accessed and regularly updated on the internet.
His effort, he says, is a snapshot of the world today and, like a family Bible, he hopes it will be passed down through generations. EARTH comes with an apt endorsement from botanist David Bellamy: ‘‘ Treat it with the care it deserves.’’
Mighty tome: Gordon Cheers with his new atlas, which weighs 35kg