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What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?
The result would be this disconcerting, disorienting map. In the world described by it, the differences in population density between countries would be less extreme than they are today. The world's most densely populated country currently is Monaco, with 43,830 inhabitants/mi² (16,923 per km²) (1). On the other end of the scale is Mongolia, which is less densely populated by a factor of almost exactly 10,000, with a mere 4.4 inhabitants/mi² (1.7 per km²).
The averages per country would more closely resemble the global average of 34 per mi² (13 per km²). But those evened-out statistics would describe a very strange world indeed. The global population realignment would involve massive migrations, lead to a heap of painful demotions and triumphant promotions, and produce a few very weird new neighbourhoods.
Take the world's largest country: Russia. It would be taken over by its Asian neighbour and rival China, the country with the world's largest population. Overcrowded China would not just occupy underpopulated Siberia - a long-time Russian fear - but also fan out all the way across the Urals to Russia's westernmost borders. China would thus become a major European power. Russia itself would be relegated to Kazakhstan, which still is the largest
country in the world, but with few hopes of a role on the world stage commensurate with Russia's clout, which in no small part derives from its sheer size.
Canada, the world's second-largest country, would be transformed into an Arctic, or at least quite chilly version of India, the country with the world's second-largest population. The country would no longer be a thinly populated northern afterthought of the US. The billion Indians north of the Great Lakes would make Canada a very distinct, very powerful global player.
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The first map, the
United States of Awesome
, charts fifty things that each state of the Union is best at. Most of those indicators, 12 in all, are related to health and well-being (3). Ten are economic (4), six environmental (5), five educational (6). Three can be classified as ‘moral’, even if these particular distinctions make for strange bedfellows (7).
The best thing that can be said about Missouri and Illinois, apparently, is that they're extremely average (8). While that may excite few people, it will greatly interest political pollsters and anyone in need of a focus group. Virginia and Indiana are the states with the most birthplaces of presidents and vice-presidents, respectively. South Carolinians prefer to spend their time golfing, Pennsylvanians hunting. Violent crime is lowest in Maine, public corruption in Nebraska. The most bizarre distinctions, finally, are reserved for New Mexico (Spaceport Home), Oklahoma (Best Licence Plate) and Missouri (Bromine Production). If that’s the best thing about those states, what might be the worst?
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