Book Review: The Soft Atlas of Amsterdam
August 03, 2020
This delightful large-format paperback by Jan Rothuizen, subtitled Hand Drawn Perspectives from Daily Life, is one of the most charming and fascinating books in my library. My fondness for maps, hand artwork, participant observation, and Amsterdam coalesce perfectly in this book.
Each two- page spread is a “map” of a mundane (or sometimes famous) area of the city. The artwork is engaging, but it’s the annotations and details that draw you in. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, and you’ll frown. Having spent a little time in many of the areas, the art brought new details to light, and also (because the book is a couple of years old) let me consider how the area has changed since being captured.
It’s hard for me to decide on a favorite, but his drawing of an Albert Heijn supermarket certainly stands out. I was instantly transported back to the aisles of the one near our apartment at The Wittenberg. And the annotations resolved a few unanswered questions that puzzled American me. (Such as why Kellogg’s boxes are smaller — it’s to fit the Dutch shelves, which are shorter on the bottom rows. Duh.)
Other maps, such as Rokin, Vondelpark, and a canal houseboat stand out too. Having personal experience, I found these were honest representations, so it leads me to trust the others I didn’t get to see, such as a methadone clinic, a delivery room, and commune-style home.
I bought my copy of the book at the gift shop at Our Lord in the Attic (Ons’ Lieve Here op Solder) and proceeded to haul it around in my briefcase for the next several weeks. It was well worth the effort and is now one of my favorite souvenirs of the city. You can get a copy from Amazon, too. If this sounds like something you might dig, don’t hesitate. You can imagine me waving at you from the nave in Oude Kerk.