LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World


by Alastair Bonnett.

The title and blurb are misleading: although this is a book about places, many of them truly fascinating, for the most part they are well known and well mapped (I used to drive past one of them every day).

That said, Bonnett does take us to some off-the-map places (e.g. the pumice islands and trash vortices of the southern Pacific), as well as other truly amazing and bizarre places (e.g. the underground cities of Cappadocia, Baarle-Nassau/Hertog), but I found some chapters dull (International Airspace and Traffic Island), and describing Hobyo as “a port city” (as does Wikipedia) – when the urban area is only ~1km end to end – made me wonder about how other information was being presented.

I think it’s better to view this book as more a about the philosophy and psychology of place – and the human relationship with it – rather than the places themselves. At that, it’s good, even if the language is a bit impenetrable at times, (e.g. “There are good reasons to resist this twenty-first century rekindling of the Corbusian dreamscape of speeding machines swarming through geometric space.”).

Despite feeling misled by the title/blurb, I did like this book (and I loved the line drawings), and think I would have read it anyway.


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