Maria Lane

Department of Geography & ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES


Page last modified 7 October 2013

Lane, K. Maria D. (2011) Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet. University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 9780226470788.

Available in hard copy and as an e-book from Also available from booksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Editorial Abstract:
One of the first maps of Mars, published by an Italian astronomer in 1877, with its pattern of canals, fueled belief in intelligent life forms on the distant red planet—a hope that continued into the 1960s. Although the Martian canals have long since been dismissed as a famous error in the history of science, K. Maria D. Lane argues that there was nothing accidental about these early interpretations. Indeed, she argues, the construction of Mars as an incomprehensibly complex and engineered world both reflected and challenged dominant geopolitical themes during a time of major cultural, intellectual, political, and economic transition in the Western world.

Geographies of Mars telescopes in on a critical period in the development of the geographical imagination, when European imperialism was at its zenith and American expansionism had begun in earnest. Astronomers working in the new observatories of the American Southwest or in the remote heights of the South American Andes were inspired, Lane finds, by their own physical surroundings and used representations of the Earth’s arid landscapes to establish credibility for their observations of Mars. With this simple shift to the geographer’s point of view, Lane deftly explains some of the most perplexing stances on Mars taken by familiar protagonists such as Percival Lowell, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Lester Frank Ward.

A highly original exploration of geography’s spatial dimensions at the beginning of the twentieth century, Geographies of Mars offers a new view of the mapping of far-off worlds.

Editorial Reviews
“Geographies of Mars is an imaginatively conceived, expertly researched, and bountifully illustrated study of popular and scientific understandings of Mars within the context of the Age of Exploration in the nineteenth century and turn of the twentieth. Like Symmes with his theory of the Hollow Earth, many held out the hope that Mars provided a hospitable environment for both social and physical engineering. Maria Lane takes readers on a dazzlingly comprehensive tour of cultures of Mars science, whose ideas were shaped by cartographic practices of the day, American and European geopolitics, and competition for scientific credibility. The new historical geography could not be in better hands; this is that rare academic book you’ll be inspired to read cover to cover.”
—Karen M. Morin, Bucknell University

“Maria Lane’s arresting volume Geographies of Mars dramatically extends the reach of geography’s domain, both empirically—by sweeping the red planet into the orbit of geographical analysis—and conceptually—by disclosing the profound connections between the ways terrestrial and Martian landscapes have been understood. In showing the imperial reach of early twentieth-century geographical sensibility beyond the earth itself and into the heavens, Lane has at once enlarged geography’s horizons and exposed just how intimate relations really are between the ‘near’ and the ‘far.’ In all, a wonderfully innovative piece of intellectual cartography.”
—David N. Livingstone, Queen’s University Belfast

“Geographies of Mars is a terrific book of science fact, not science fiction. In engaging and lucid prose, Maria Lane reveals how the geography of the red planet was mapped, represented, and argued over. This is a story of mountain observatories, of fieldwork conducted at distance, and of how Mars’s geographers sought social and scientific legitimacy. It is an insightful study in, and an important contribution to, the relationships between the science of geography and the geography of science.”
—Charles W. J. Withers, University of Edinburgh

“Lane’s skillful exploration of how astronomy and geography intersected in the debates over the existence of life on Mars at the end of the nineteenth century, and beyond, makes for compelling reading. Readers will enjoy her persuasive discussions of the role of changing cartographical conventions, the construction of high-altitude sites, and the adoption of the heroic explorer narrative in providing legitimacy for pluralism. Also of note are her fresh interpretations of controversies over Martian landscapes and life forms in the context of environmental and imperial concerns. This book will appeal to historians of science, historians of geography, Victorianists, and historians of nineteenth-century American history.”
—Bernard Lightman, York University

CLICK BELOW to read announcements about the book and reviews:


by Roger Launius on his blog, Apr. 2013

by Veronica della Dora in Geographical Review, Aug. 2012

by Woody Sullivan in Journal of the History of Astronomy, Aug. 2012

by Matthew Farish in Journal of Historical Geography, July 2012

by Jason Dittmer in Cultural Geographies, Apr. 2012

by Marc Rothenberg in Isis, Mar. 2012

by Michael Mendillo in Imago Mundi, Jan. 2012

by Andrew Knoll in
Times Literary Supplement, Aug. 2011

by David DeVorkin in American Scientist, May 2011


by Rebecca Maksel in Smithsonian Air&Space blog, Feb. 2011


on the Bookshelf in ScienceNews, Feb.2011


by Michael Carr in Nature, Feb. 2011


by Stephen Poole in The Guardian, Feb. 2011


by von Holger Wetzel in Thueringer Allgemeine. Feb. 2011 (in German)


by Rob Hardy in The Dispatch, Jan. 2011


by Adam Kirsch in

Barnes & Noble Reviews, Dec. 2010