Seth Stevenson writes on “the greatest paper map of the United States you’ll ever see.” It’s David Imus’s work of art and it really is beautiful. Here’s Pennsylvania:

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What separates a great map from a terrible one is choosing which data to use and how best to present it. How will you signify elevation and forestation? How will you imply the hierarchy of city sizes? How big must a town (or an airport, or a body of water) be to warrant inclusion? And how will you convey all of this with a visual scheme that’s clean and attractive? …

David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. … Your standard wall map will often paint the U.S. states different colors so their shapes are easily grasped. But Imus’ map uses thick lines to indicate state borders and reserves the color for more important purposes—green for denser forestation, yellow for population centers.

“Yellow for population centers” is one of the keys for grasping both the utility and beauty of this map. Looking at the entire nation with this map gives you an immediate sense of just how big the big cities are, and where the population splays itself out across the terrain. It turns raw facts like “325 million Americans” into something as practically useful as it is visually impressive. And seeing how little concentrated yellow there is on the thing reminds us of how much room we have to grow.