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The Mapmaker's EyeThe Mapmaker's Eye

David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau

Jack Nisbet

2006 Best of the Best from the University Presses, American Association of School Librarians

Narrated by Mark D. Mickelson

Available from Audible

Book published by Washington State University Press

Experience the sweep of human and natural history on the Columbia Plateau through the eyes of intrepid explorer and cartographer David Thompson, who established two viable trade routes across the Rocky Mountains in Canada, systematically surveyed the entire 1,250-mile course of the Columbia River, and subsequently distilled his mathematical notations into the first accurate maps of a vast portion of the northwest quadrant of North America.

Complex, headstrong, curious, and resourceful, David Thompson is a hero in Canada, yet has remained largely unknown in the United States. Between 1801 and 1812, this fur trader, explorer, and cartographer established two viable trade routes across the Rocky Mountains in Canada and systematically surveyed the entire 1250-mile course of the Columbian River. In succeeding years he distilled his mathematical notations from dozens of journal notebooks into the first maps of the northwest quadrant of North America. Information from some of his earlier mapwork was even used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Author Jack Nisbet utilizes fresh research to convey how Thompson experienced the full sweep of the human and natural history etched across the Columbian drainage. He places Thompson’s movements within the larger contexts of the European Enlightenment, the British fur trade economy, and American expansion as represented by Lewis and Clark. The Mapmaker’s Eye is a fascinating chronicle of Thompson’s life and adventures.

Jack Nisbet is the author of Sources of the River (recipient of the Washington Governor's Award and winner of the Murray Morgan Prize from the Washington State Historical Society), The Mapmaker's Eye (named one of The Best Nonfiction Books of the Year by The Seattle Times), and Visible Bones.


“A beautiful addition to anyone’s historical collection.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

“This is a well-documented historical narrative of an individual who had a significant impact on the Northwest part of the Northern Hemisphere. I think it is a ‘Must Read’!!”

Gem State Surveyor

“A well-researched, well-written introduction to both Thompson and the land he was first to map.”

Oregon Historical Quarterly

“An engaging narrative of Thompson’s travels in the Columbia Plateau.”

Journal of the West

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University Press Audiobooks