War, or even the threat of war, is good for map sales. Just ask map makers, who say the crisis in the Middle East has unleashed a stampede of map buying nationwide.

"People's lives right now depend on knowing the geography and culture of the Middle East," observed William Graves, editor of National Geographic magazine.Gwen Baker, a spokeswoman for Hammond Inc. in Maplewood, N.J., reports that the company's wall chart and map of the region has been "wildly popular."

Issued in late August, the map has sold 55,000 copies and is in its fourth printing, she said.

Interest has been especially strong among family members of personnel who have been deployed to the gulf as well as concerned reservists, she said.

Barbara Fine, owner of the Map Store in Washington, says she's had a hard time keeping the Hammond chart in stock.

Even more difficult to obtain, though, have been the Defense Mapping Agency charts of the region she usually stocks, which are now unavailable.

Defense Mapping Agency spokesman Dave Black confirmed that his bureau has been unable to resupply sales agents because of the volume of maps needed by the military force in the Middle East.

Overall, Black said, his agency has sent more than 30 million maps of various types to that region since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

The flood of interest in the region also spurred National Geographic to produce some 10 million copies of a new Middle East map that will be sent out with the February edition of its magazine, Grave said.

The society also will donate 50,000 special plastic-coated versions of its new map to the troops in the gulf, according to spokeswoman Barbara Hand Fallon.