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The History of the London Underground Map by Caroline Roope review – the lines of beauty

At the heart of this clear, thorough study of the London Underground map’s evolution is the man whose brilliantly comprehensible design for an untidy city has never been surpassed

This book’s title might suggest a history of the London Underground map of 1933 (which is technically a diagram), the one created by Harry Beck and resembling electric circuitry. But it’s really a history of London Underground maps plural, albeit with Beck as the star of the show. After all, there were underground maps before him, and there have been others since, because his original game-changer has been much messed with. Caroline Roope’s lucid and thoroughly researched study can also be read as a history of London Underground per se. In other words, she sets Harry Beck in the fullest possible context – a well-merited honour.

Beck supplied a brilliantly comprehensible map for an untidy city. It shows a metropolis of railway lines that are only ever horizontal, vertical or diagonal. For further clarity, he magnified the cluttered centre and minimised the sprawling suburbs, so, as Roope writes: “Uxbridge was as close to Hillingdon as Leicester Square was to Covent Garden.”

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