Off the Map
Subtitled “Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places, and What They Tell Us About the World,” Alastair Bonnett’s Off the Map (sold in America under the title Unruly Places) was a fascinating collection of places that do not exist within the realm of traditional maps. As the back of the book describes, the book “takes us to the ends of the earth" and "shows us that topophilia, the love of place, is a fundamental part of what it is to be human.” I found it fascinating, full of fun facts and insights into human connection to place. Because the book was a collection of places, here are two examples in order to give a sense of what the book was like:
- Arne: a village in the English Channel evacuated in 1942, and where a decoy factory was built. As I learned, “decoys were widely employed throughout England during the war” (22) meant to divert bombers from cities. By June 1944, decoy sites around England were attacked on 730 occasions. After the war, Arne was permanently abandoned.
- Mount Athos: in the section on “Places of Exception,” about places that exist within other places (i.e. embassies), I found Mount Athos the most fascinating. It is a 50-km long peninsula that extents into the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece, with twenty Greek Orthodox monasteries built into the mountain. Women are banned from Athos – female humans and female animals. Mount Athos is an example about the “deep sense of anxiety about the presence of women” (190) that exist within world religions.
Bonnett does a fantastic job of taking the reader across the world, into places known and unknown. It was a book of “floating islands, dead cities, and hidden kingdoms.” There are forty-seven places explained within the book, demarcated into seven sections: Lost Spaces, Hidden Geographies, No Man’s Lands, Dead Cities, Spaces of Exception, Enclaves & Breakaway Nations, Floating Islands, and Ephemeral Places. As one review describes, "A conversational, thoroughly researched, and very engaging armchair tour of what might be seen as a parallel planet to the one we live in every day—one in which nothing is ordinary...Alastair Bonnett is a most excellent traveling companion." Perfect for travel, or no travel at all. If you’re looking for a fascinating look into place, or just an escape from wherever you are, pick up this book. Rating: ★★★★