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Map of the week: Global wealth

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Mark Easton | 11:10 UK time, Monday, 29 September 2008

Our Map of the week this week is culled from a new book, The Atlas of the Real World, out next month.

The book uses 'cartograms' to analyse how different aspects of life look in global terms - depicting the areas and countries of the world not by their physical size, but by their demographic importance.

Each territory on a map displays its data graphically by being made larger or smaller proportional to the other territories, which are in turn scaled according to the data within them.

The maps have been created by Daniel Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford - academics behind the renowned website .

There are lots of fascinating maps in the book and I shall no doubt borrow more in the future, but a series which immediately caught my eye looks at 2000 years of wealth.

Map-OneWealth Year 1

Map-TwoWealth Year 1500

Map-ThreeWealth Year 1900

Map-FourWealth Year 1960

Wealth Year 1990

Wealth Year 2015

It is a simple animation over six frames that reveals an amazing story of global power shifting across the planet and the UK's place within that.

Wealth is measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) defined as the total market value of all goods and services produced within a territory in a given year. The figures are also adjusted for purchasing power parity.

The first map entitled Wealth Year 1 shows how wealth was distributed across the world 2,000 years ago, in terms of modern boundaries.

The best current estimates indicate that average GDP per person living in the year AD1 expressed in current US dollars, was $445. By 1990 the equivalent was $5,248.

The researchers surmised that there was probably little variation between regions at the time. Indeed, since variations in GDP per person were low this map looks very similar to the population map for AD1.

By 1500, Europe had become one of the wealthiest areas of the world with Britain the sixth richest country in terms of GDP per person after Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and France.

In 1900, Britain dominates the picture, the richest country on the planet per capita.Within 60 years, we are not even in the top 10 and by 1990 the United States had become number one. But looking ahead and the Far East swells up, back to the size it had been 500 years earlier.

In 2015, the richest country in terms of GDP per person is expected to be Taiwan with the US in sixth. The UK is not quite back to its 1500 status but I think we can see the direction of travel.

The maps, of course, also reveal poverty around the world. The shrunken, deformed shape of Africa tells its own story.

The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the Way We Live is published by Thames and Hudson on 6 Oct.


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