Posted in History & Literature


Think of the world map. Most of you will think of the typical map where Europe and Africa are in the middle, with Russia dominating the Eurasian landmass and Greenland easily outsizing South America.

Mercator projection

The most common world map we use nowadays is based on the Mercator projection. Because the Earth is spherical and maps are two-dimensional rectangles, complex mathematics are involved to project the former on the latter by distorting the picture. The Mercator projection was created by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. The map was extremely useful for sailors because it depicted the curvature of the Earth in straight lines, making navigation much easier.

However, the Mercator projection severely distorts the size of each continents, meaning the image of the world we have in our heads is completely misleading. According to the Mercator projection, Greenland is as large as Africa, Alaska is as large as continental USA and Antarctica dwarfs every continent.

Gall-Peters projection

To solve this problem, the Gall-Peters projection was suggested in 1974 as an alternative as it correctly displayed the continents’ respective sizes. As you can see, in reality Greenland is significantly smaller than even Australia, Europe and Russia are much smaller than expected and Africa is an extremely large continent.

Dr. Arno Peters argued that the Mercator projection was a biased, euro-centric projection that harmed the world’s perception of developing countries. This of course, led to extreme controversy over the politics of cartography.

Africa vs Greenland

There are many other distortions commonly found in maps. Maps tend to enlarge the landmass of the own country subtly and some American maps go as far as placing the USA in the middle even if it means splitting Eurasia in half. Even though landmass does not correlate in any way with how well the lives of its inhabitants are, such distortions can be seen even nowadays. This shows that not everything you see is as it seems.

Posted in History & Literature


The following is the synopsis of a short story called How Much Land Does a Man Need?, written by the famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy.

A peasant man called Pahom was complaining of how he did not possess enough land to satisfy him. He lamented: “If I had plenty of land, I should not fear the Devil himself”. The Devil, hiding behind the stove and listening to this, decided to have a tussle with Pahom to teach him a lesson.

The next day, a lady in the village sold her estate, which was bought up by the peasants. Pahom too tried to buy as much land as possible and by utilising the land he pays off his debts and he leads a happier life. But despite having his wish granted, he was still not satisfied and desired more land. His obsession with his land began to cause troubles with his neighbours and he eventually moved to a larger area of land at another village.

However, he was annoyed that he was growing crop on rented land and wanted more land for himself. He found out that the Bashkirs in the village were simple-minded people with large amounts of land. Pahom decided to exploit the Bashkirs and went to them to negotiate the lowest price possible for their land. The Bashkirs counteroffered with a very strange deal: for a thousand rubles, they would let Pahom take a spade to mark out an area of land and claim it for himself. The only condition was that he had to come back to where he started to close the loop by sunset. Pahom joyfully took up the offer, thinking how stupid these people were.

That night, Pahom had a surreal dream where he saw himself lying at the feet of the Devil. The Devil was laughing maniacally over Pahom’s cold, dead body. After jerking awake from this nightmare, Pahom sets out to start marking out as much land as possible. He decides to travel as far as he can to maximise his gain. However, he forgets to take into account the time needed to come back to where he started and hurries back. Although he manages to close the loop by sunset, the exhaustion causes him to drop dead on the spot. He is buried in a hole measuring 6 feet long.

How much more land does a man need than a place where he can rest in peace?