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

Alastair Bonnett
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 2015

'A fizzingly entertaining and enlightening book' Daily Telegraph

'Mesmerising' Geographical Magazine

'A fascinating delve into uncharted, forgotten lost places. But it's not just a trivia-tastic anthology of remote destinations but a nifty piece of psycho-geography, explaining our human need for these cartographical  conundrums.' Wanderlust

In a world of Google Earth, in which it is easy to believe that every discovery has been made and every adventure already had, Off the Map is a stunning testament to how mysterious our planet still is.

From forgotten enclaves to floating islands, from hidden villages to New York gutter spaces, Off the Map charts the hidden corners of our planet. And while these are not necessarily places you would choose to visit on holiday - Hobyo, the pirate capital of Somalia, or Zheleznogorsk, a secret military town in Russia - they each carry a story about the strangeness of place and our need for a geography that understands our hunger for the fantastic and the unexpected.

But it also shows us that topophilia, the love of place, is a fundamental part of what it is to be human. Whether you are an urban explorer or an armchair traveller, Off the Map will inspire and enchant. You'll never look at a map in quite the same way again.



Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd (2 April 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178131361X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781313619
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 15 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"A fascinating delve into uncharted, forgotten and lost places. But it’s not just a trivia-tastic anthology of remote destinations but a nifty piece of psycho-geography, explaining our human need for these cartographical conundrums."


"Bonnett dares us to rethink exploration in a world that has been fully charted, taking us from micronation Sealand - a forsaken sea fort claimed by a Brit as his own sovereign nation - to Arne, a Second World War decoy city that saved thousands of lives. Forty-seven fascinating essays prove why "our topophilia can never be extinguished or sated" and how these locations over insights into our history and society." 


Alastair Bonnett’s high-speed world tour of places and non-places whose stories would bring the most somnolent class to life. Bonnett zooms effortlessly around far-off spots – sometimes in person, more often via the internet – but he does not ignore those closer to home. Fizzingly entertaining and enlightening book.’ 

(Tom Fort Daily Telegraph)

‘Fearlessly explores the dark side of humanity while constantly challenging our conceptions of place, borders and boundaries, and how we as humans use locations and geography to define ourselves and the world around us. Importantly, Bonnett’s careful research and fascinating theories are complemented with passages of wonderfully written prose. A thought provoking triumph.’

(James Reader The Great Outdoors)

‘A mesmerising study of ambiguous temporary places.’

(Geographical Magazine)

About the Author

ALASTAIR BONNETT is Professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University. Previous books include What is Geography? (Sage, 2008) and How to Argue (Pearson, 2001). He has also contributed to history and current affairs magazines on a wide variety of topics, such as world population and radical nostalgia. Alastair was editor of the avant-garde, psychogeographical, magazine Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration between 1994-2000. He was also involved for many years in situationist and anarchist politics. His latest research projects are about memories of the city and themes of loss and yearning in modern politics.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Floating islands, dead cities and hidden kingdoms 18 April 2014
By Charles TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Greek philosopher Aristotle thought place should 'take precedence of all other things' because place gives order to the world. Place is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human, but place is ever changing and can be altered by us.

Our dull daily routines bore us, the wonder of new places, of novelty and escape are alluring, but the world has been explored and mapped and known. So we want something unknown, off the map, somehow still hidden, offering secret wonders.

This book is a journey to 47 of those places, those strange secret wonders, here are some that I found interesting.

The Sandy Island, the island that was on the maps but did not actually exist, it took until November 2012 for it to be deleted from Google maps.

Arne, the fake decoy English village made in WW2 to trick Germans bombers into bombing it, not the factory nearby.
The village now lies abandoned, nature slowly reclaiming the land.

The Aralqum Desert, once a sea but sucked dry by soviet farming. Now a barren plain littered with seashells and the remains of boats. The salty sea floor, extreme temperatures and winds makes plant life very rare, it appears that at least in the short term, nature cannot cope.

The underground cities of Cappadocia.

North Sentinel Island, a five mile island whose indigenous population are one of the very few groups in the world virtually untouched by modern civilization, this is because of there aggression towards outsiders, anybody coming near the island meets a hail of arrows.

Kijong-dong, a village built by North Korea near the north south Korean border, to encourage South Koreans to defect by showing the north's progress.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and a bit different! 29 July 2014
By Woozle
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Arrived promptly. Being enjoyed by the person that I gave it to.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lack of pictures a disappointment 26 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A book about "places", which has no maps or photgraphs? WHY? Even pictures of where these places used to be (or are alleged to have been) would have been welcome. The lack of illustrations spoil an otherwise interesting volume. There are a very few pen & ink drawings, hardly any of which add anything to the text (one shows a few trees sticking up out of flood water, another a motorway junction - both so non-specific that it's a mystery why they were chosen).
All in all, I'd have been better off borrowing this book from the library, as it doesn't qualify as a "keeper", imho.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Blondie
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My Dad is pleased with this book as it was a gift for his Brother, therefore I cannot comment on this very much.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A book of floating islands, dead cities and hidden kingdoms..." 16 July 2014
By S. McGee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When Jeremiah Heaton hit the headlines last week for traveling across an arid stretch of southern Egypt to Bir Tawil and planting a flag on an unclaimed, uninhabited 800-square arid block of land that neither Sudan nor Egypt want, claiming it in the Heaton name as the Kingdom of North Sudan in order to fulfill a promise to his seven-year-old daughter Emily that he would make her a princess, I'm willing to bet that I'm one of a handful of people in the world that knew where the hell this place was or why on earth it was up for grabs in this way. Why? Because I'd read my way through Alastair Bonnett's fascinating assortment of profiles of this and dozens of other geographic oddities, from a 27 kilometer-long road that separates border posts (leaving the land in between technically neither Guinea nor Senegal, or both...) to the dead city of Agdan in Nagorno Karabakh, to tiny "gutterspaces" (available for sale, but just trying occupying one...) in New York City and the vast floating garbage islands in the Pacific. A few of these places I had heard of, like Sealand -- the attempt to build an independent nation on an abandoned oil rig -- but others, like layers of enclaves, were new to me. (Imagine: an Indian community, inside a Bangladeshi enclave, in an Indian village, inside Bangladesh...)

This book was a source of endless fascination, and left me pondering an equally endless numbers of questions revolving around our relationship to the space we occupy, and to the ways that our sense of identity is bound up with that space. We may believe that we live in an era where geographical exploration is a thing of the past, but that is less true that we might believe, as Bonnett points out. Part of it may simply be a matter of describing what we mean when we use the phrase. Then, too, it turns out that there ARE places on which most of us have never yet set foot, like North Sentinel Island. We don't know what the locals call it, because we've never had any contact with them. Ever. They've killed people who have landed there, and have made it VERY clear they don't want us there. (Their islands are near the Andaman and Nicobar islands.) And we've decided to let 'em be.

There are 47 short segments here, ranging from traffic islands to cities of the living inhabiting vast cemetaries, from pirate communities to invented nations in central Europe. I did sometimes think that it might have been more interesting to have read a work of narrative nonfiction, in which Bonnett presented his thesis and used these as anecdotes, rather than a book that is composed simply of vignettes (it ended up feeling a lot like a coffee table book, only without the pictures), ultimately that didn't spoil my pleasure. And Bonnett does a great job in presenting his thesis about our relationship to place -- and to geography itself -- in both his introduction and conclusion, so I didn't feel short-changed.

On the contrary, this was a delightful book. Some critics have noted you can find this content online. Sure -- if you know what to look for. This is a topic I've been interested in for at least a decade, ever since I attended a seminar on "Imaginary Nations" at the New School in New York, and I've got a graduate degree in international relations, with a strong interest in geopolitics (and hence, border issues). Nonetheless, half of these topics I had never even heard of. And to have them all presented in one place, engagingly written, is a great starting point for anyone whose curiosity is likely to be piqued by the topic. Does it answer all questions? Nope. And my advance review copy, alas, didn't include a bibliography or notes.

This is often quirky and always fascinating, and if it doesn't inspire in a curious-minded reader an interest in even the space around them -- and what may lie beneath the surface or hidden around a corner -- I'd be astonished. It's a reminder that what we see when we travel and what goes unnoticed and unremarked until some apparently eccentric guy like Mr. Heaton intent on making his daughter a princess brings it to our attention, can be fascinating. We may never ever want to visit Bir Tawil -- Bonnett notes that satellite photos show there are no buildings and that even its desert tracks have disappeared. But it's rare that I finish reading a book and feel that I've made as many discoveries along the way, about places like Bir Tawil, as I did in the course of reading this.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating topics, half baked coverage of those topic 30 Jun 2014
By Gagewyn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Unruly Places is a collection of short write ups on unusual geographical oddities. It covers Sealandia, the country on an abandoned oil rig off the English coast, Anagram, the world'slargest dead city, Sandy Island, an island which was mistakenly recorded on nautical charts hundreds of years ago and only proven not to exist and removed in the last20 years. Each chapter is about 5 pages long.

The topics were great. Each place chosen has an interesting story.

But, the writing was not so great. There aren't any citations. I have an advance reading copy, so maybe mine is missing cites. Even so, the writing is choppy. Too often, the book tries to wax philosophical about how places make us feel and the mystery of the unknown, etc. This feels like fluff that gets in the way of the story. And there's a lot of fluff.

To me, this is a book that would have been amazing 30 years ago. But now with the internet, I can run a quick search and find better information and a more readable story for each place.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strong recommendation 12 July 2014
By David Wilson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Before I bought the book I read both the favorable and the critical reviews and I was prepared to be a bit disappointed. On the contrary, I found the book completely fascinating. There is rich detail, interesting facts and high-quality writing throughout. As a senior citizen who's done a lot of traveling over the years, I was surprised that I hadn't even heard of most of the places in the book and I commend the author for his most impressive research skills. I buy a lot of books on Amazon -- usually several a week -- and I'd place this book in the top three I've purchased in the last several years (I've never written a review before but this book deserves an excellent one). Great reading.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What is where? Where is what? 30 Jun 2014
By Jessica Weissman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Alastair Bonnett has put together the stories of about 50 unusual places - islands that have disapppeared, places that are part of no nation ("no man's lands"), places where borders are so twisted together that some places seem to be part of two nations, abandoned cities, enclaves of one country within another country, hidden tunnels, and so on. Many are virtually unknown.

He tries to mix this with meditations on what a place is, but there's no need. The stories themselves illustrate and convey the questions and issues. The writing is decent enough, and treatment of each spot brisk enough that this reader, at least, didn't get bored. I'm not sure the whole thing hangs together, but then there's no reason it has to.

Don't expect a travelogue, and don't expect deep insights. This is more than an entertaining set of oddities - because Bonnet is a geographer after all - and he wisely doesn't try to hammer everything into one sheet. And don't take the "inscrutable" part of the title seriously.

Enjoy it for what it is.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The truth is, we want a world that is not totally known and that has the capacity to surprise us." 14 July 2014
By Amelia Gremelspacher - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Early on, Bonnett cites Mieville's "The City and the City". I am a Mieville fan and think that the juxtaposition of the allegorical city within the city fits the modern St. Petersburg/ Leningrad beautifully. In small addictive chapters, the author presents places that were once there, and are three no longer despite their presence on the maps. He explores the cities that have sunk below new versions of themselves, and places that prefer to remain in hiding as never exited. The flow of the planet, aided greatly by its biggest destructor adds and subtracts water side dwellings and lakes. Seas disappear. All of these changes are relatively recent in the history of the world, and provide a a nice relief from the absolutely KNOWN world of Google Maps and satellite tracking. This is a sometimes depressing, but often restful view of the world that even the techies cannot always find.
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