The Shape of Texas: Maps As Metaphors by Richard V. Francaviglia

shape of texas book cover

Recommended by Doug Braudaway


Of all the states in the Union, Texas has the most distinctive boundaries. Unlike those blocky, rectangular states out West or the smaller, irregularly shaped (or even unshaped) states back East, the shape of Texas is instantly recognizable to people from Texas and from abroad. Author Richard V. Francaviglia addresses cartography in a uniquely Texas manner.

Black-and-white illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text, as one would hope with a study of maps and the uses of maps, and a section of color illustrations proves to be icing on the Texas-shaped cake.

The Texas shape fits within a circle and a square, making the icon particularly useful in advertising and marketing efforts.

When people draw the Texas outline freehand, the resulting shapes may not be perfectly accurate. However, people commonly draw something that is understandly Texas. Francaviglia writes that there are three elements to the drawing of Texas:

simplified perimeter;
accurate proportions; and
distorted but recognizable massing.
The Texas border is actually a complex cartagrapic feature, and freehand drawings generally simplify the features. And yet the curves of the Rio Grande and the Gulf Coast and the straight lines of Panhandle almost always define the drawing. The state's north-south distance is 97% of its east-west distance. Freehand drawings generally match that ratio, in drawing after drawing. Those drawings sometimes misplace the panhandle or miss the exact intersection of the Rio Grande and the Gulf Coast, but while individual features may be incorrectly placed, the mass shown in the drawings well represents Texas.

The Shape of Texas is a serious trip through popular culture, and it is good explanation of something that could not be done in most places in the country.