These are the books that no transit map enthusiast should be without, and there are a surprising number available. This is a list of every relevant title that I know, including out of print books and obsolete editions. I start with a London focus, then move out to the rest of the world, and finish with some of my favourite books on design, cartography, and usability.
By David Leboff and Tim Demuth
1999, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854142151
Looks at the development of Underground maps in London before Henry Beck created the first schematic. Now out of print, but useful to acquire.
Design variety in the first half of the Twentieth Century
By John Dodd
2016, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854144003
Supercedes the above title, many designs published for the first time,
has railway and bus maps as well as Underground railways.
By Ken Garland
1994, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854141686
A detailed account of Henry Beck’s work on the London Underground map. After some background, covers this from the early 1930s to early 1960s, including his intriguing unpublished experiments. Unfortunately, very little coverage of London Underground maps not produced by Beck.
George Dow and the Development of the Diagrammatic Railway Map
By Andrew Dow
2005, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854142917
Don't overlook this book. It takes a more searching than usual look at the evolution of diagrammatic railway maps. It then charts the career of a lesser-known individual who commenced work before Henry Beck and was, at the very least, the equal to him in terms of creativity and productivity.
By Maxwell J. Roberts
2005 (updated 2008), Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854142160
The story of the London Underground map in the hands of Henry Beck’s successors, from the time of his controversial ‘sacking’ to the addition of London Overground to the map. More details here.
By Claire Dobbin
2011, Lund Humphries, ISBN 1848221048
Primarily a condensed history of the London Underground map, with a wider-than-usual consideration of the map as cultural artifact, and its use in publicity. Stands alone for its coverage of Macdonald Gill’s work.
By Maxwell J. Roberts
2012, Published by the author, ISBN 0957266407
The definitive commentary on the effective design of schematic maps? London forms the basis of this work, but New York, Paris, Madrid and Berlin feature too. Numerous unique experimental designs created by the author. More details here.
By Maxwell J. Roberts
2019, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854144447
Explores the twilight world of 100 years of unofficial Tube Maps. Many
weird and wonderful designs from the author’s own collection, alongside discussions of the nature of creativity and copyright. More details here.
1991, Ian Allen, ISBN 0711020191
A selection of maps of Britain’s railway companies, taken from the late 19th to mid 20th century. No commentary, and the maps are not even dated! Nonetheless, the illustrations give a good overview of traditional railway cartography in Britain during this period. Out of print, but readily available secondhand.
By Julian Holland and David Spaven
2011, Times Books, ISBN 0007435991
A history of Britain's railway companies, illustrated by an assortment of maps. Not really a comprehensive history of railways, or maps, but some nice illustrations.
Metrokaarten van der Wereld
Transit Maps of the World
Atlas de Metros del Mindo
By Mark Ovenden
Most recent English edition:
2015, Particular Books, ISBN 014198144X
A comprehensive catalogue of just about every single metro map available in the world, along with commentary and, for the larger systems, some history of their maps. Also available in Dutch, Japanese and Spanish. Web page for the author is here.
Great Railway Maps of the World
By Mark Ovenden
2011, Viking Books, ISBN 0670022659 (UK, hbk)
2011, Particular Books, ISBN 1846143918 (USA, hbk)
2012, Penguin Books, ISBN 0143122401 (ppbk)
Overview of railway maps worldwide, partly a history of mapping, partly an atlas of maps, one for every country that still runs a passenger network. Web page for the author is here.
Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations, and Design of the Metro
L’histoire du Métro Parisien Racontée par ses Plans
By Mark Ovenden
(with Julian Pepinster & Pascal Pontremoli for the French language edition)
2008, Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1854143228
2009, Penguin Books, ISBN 0143116398
2015, La Vie du Rail, ISBN 2370620153
The Paris Metro is one of the densest and most comprehensive in the world, and its twisting tangled lines make mapping it one of the great design challenges. More different maps of the Paris Metro have been created than for all other urban rail networks in the world put together. This book gives a detailed overview of the history of the Paris Metro, told from the perspective of maps, signs, and architecture, and has an excellent selection of independent as well as official maps. A French edition has finally been completed. Web page for the author is here.
By Jug Cerovic
2016, Published by the author, ISBN 2746693548
In contrast to the diversity displayed in Mark Ovenden’s books, this volume represents a mammoth one-man project to standardise metro map design worldwide. Web page for the author is here.
By Peter B. Lloyd
2012, RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, ISBN 1933360621
The New York City Subway is one of the great urban rail networks of the world, but its maps remain resolutely geographical(ish). The NYCTA has flirted with schematic maps in the past, but never quite managed an unqualified success. This volume covers the famous short-lived Vignelli diagram, issued from 1972 to 1979. Web page for the author is here.
100 Years of Architecture and Design in the New York City Subway
New York City Transit Museum
2004, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, ISBN 158479349
This book is about the New York Subway in general, but has a very good selection of maps reproduced in full, unfortunately not always at the highest possible quality.
The True (Maybe) Story
By Paul Shaw
2011, The MIT Press, ISBN 0262015486
More about typography and signage than maps, but nonetheless a wonderful book that shows just how much the three are inextricably
linked. Web page for the author is here.
Eine Geschichte in Streckenplanen von 1888 bis heute
By Alfred B. Gottwaldt
Most recent edition:
2013, Transpress, ISBN 3613714493
Roughly translated this becomes: The Berlin U- and S-Bahn network, a history in maps from 1888 to today. Berlin has two urban rail networks, with the U-Bahn dominating the inner city and the S-Bahn the outer suburbs. This has produced a rich assortment of maps, including one of the earliest network schematics in 1931. Politics then disrupted progress, eventually leading to a uniquely divided network and maps. The text is in German, but there is a good selection of designs.
Eine Geschichte in Streckenplanen von 1842 bis heute
By Alfred B. Gottwaldt
2011, Transpress, ISBN 3613714094
A companion volume to the Berlin one by the same author, but a little bit disappointing. There are a lot of tram maps, and not that many S- and U-Bahn maps.
By Uwe Poppel
2002, Jaron Verlag, ISBN 3897730499
A Century of the Berlin U-Bahn in maps and photos. Similar to the other book, but with some different maps. Unfortunately out of print, but worth trying to track down.
By Masayuki Inoue & Masayuki Nishimura
2018, Graphic-sha Publishing, ISBN 4766131871
Its title literally translates as Fun Route Maps, and it would be a perfect gift for a Japanese speaking map fanatic. There are so many nice images in this book that I would recommend it for non-Japanese speakers too.
By Mark Ovenden & Maxwell Roberts
2019, Penguin Books, ISBN 0143134077 (USA)
2019, Particular Books, ISBN 0241434123 (UK)
Not quite transit maps, but the best of 100 years of airline cartography is well-worth celebrating, giving a book bursting with colourful, creative works. More details here.
By Donald A. Norman
2013, MIT Press, ISBN 0262525674
A book about general usability. Humans have cognitive limitations in their attention, memory, and reasoning ability, as well as natural tendencies to interpret information in certain ways, and these all need to accommodated by designers. Whenever the user makes a mistake, we should be looking for a design flaw that caused this, rather than blaming the user for being inattentive or careless.
By J. S. Keates
1996, Longman, ISBN 0582239273
This is a lucid and acerbic antidote to the political, sociological, and maps-equal-art writing of recent years, by an expert in the practicalities of designing and using real maps. The book is about cartography in general, but many points are relevant to schematic maps. The only disappointment is that the book is short of illustrations.
Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
By Joel Katz
2012, Wiley, ISBN 111834197
A comprehensive and detailed account of general issues in information design, including maps. A second edition is in preperation. Web page for the author is here.
Coppernickel goes Mondrian
By Wouter van Reek
Most recent edition: 2017, Leopold, ISBN 9025873189
English translation: 2012, Enchanted Lion Books, ISBN 1592701193
Not strictly about maps, but the journey on the Mondrianesque metro is priceless. Also available in French, German, Japanese, and Korean. Web page for the author is here.
New York Museum of Modern Art, ISBN 1633450257
An account of the Vignelli New York City Subway map, written for children. Fun and lovely illustrations, but takes a somewhat revisionist stance to history.