on 17 June 2015
The author clearly wants to write a book that provides entertainment in a serious academic wrapping. Sadly, the result is a failure on both counts
We have here superficial information containing fewer facts than a Wikipedia entry padded out with a pretentious and pseudoscientific comment or two to impress the gullible.
Consider the entry on the Pacific Garbage Patch. The author has plainly heard about it sometime, decided it is A Bad Thing and imagined that there's an solid, artificial island somewhere out there in the Pacific. If he had bothered to do any research at all then he would know that the problem is not large pieces of garbage but a slightly higher concentration of monofilament fishing line fragments and neuston plastic (particles that have been broken down to a small size by UV light.) In fact, only half of areas of the large scale survey by NOAA at very centre of the densest part of the Pacific Garbage Patch contain even detectable levels of microscopic plastic. Even Wikipedia does better than Mr Bonnett.
on 26 April 2014
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.
on 14 August 2014
This seems to me to be an odd book to come from an academic. It certainly has academic elements - there is quite a bit of theorising about the concept of 'place'. But really it is an account of forty-odd strange places, which could have been a series in a colour supplement. Some of them are very interesting and worth knowing about, others are just rum or of little interest to anybody except the author. There are almost no pictures, which I found a disadvantage, and almost no maps either: maps would have clarified what he was talking about. I got the feeling that much of what he was writing derived from the internet.
So: of some interest, but not really worth a book. And here we have a geographer who (on page 239) doesn't know his east from his west.
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. It is a fake, empty village, lights go on and off but but there are no residents and visitors are not allowed.
The Ukrainian city of Pripyat, which had to be abandoned because of the accident at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Looters have stripped the city of anything valuable, wild animals roam the streets and nature is slowing reclaiming its land.
The Geneva Freeport, a massive warehouse where the rich hide their treasures, the art alone have been estimated to be worth $100 billion.
Hobyo, the Somalia pirate town.
Sealand, a abandoned former fort in the north sea was taken over in 1967 by family and associates of Paddy Roy Bates, who claim that it is an independent sovereign state. They issued their own stamps and money.
The Pacific Trash Vortex, a massive soup of garbage floating in the Pacific. Estimates of its size are 270,000 to 5,800,000 square miles.
If I was to criticise this book, I would say given the subject matter some photos would have been nice (there are a couple of drawings, but that's it) and some very interesting places like Hashima Island are not mentioned.
Overall, this is an interesting read.
on 28 March 2016
I've been reading this book on and off since it arrived as a gift from the Book Editor of the newspaper I do reviews for. I didn't have to review it, so just picked it up when I wanted to.
It's that kind of book anyway: the chapters are loosely organised under several headings, but each is fairly separate. It offers short windows into strange worlds that inhabit the same globe as the rest of us, but some are so striking you wonder how it is that you haven't heard about them before. All of them attest to the way in which humans make place very much a thing of their own, even though that thing may vary enormously. The book also looks at some places that don't actually exist, and some that only existed for a short time because of their inherent fragility. Some of the places aren't inhabited at all, some were never meant to be inhabited, and some are just a puzzle as to why anyone would want to live there.
Bonnett has a wealth of material at his disposal, and writes with a sense of delight about his subject matter. Eye-opening and very enjoyable.
on 5 July 2015
As a click-bait blog post linking to the top 10 off-the-map places on wikipedia this would be mildly interesting. As a book, it's neither particularly informative or entertaining.
It tries making the places all about the humans, but speeds through each place so quickly there's no relationship built in the reader's mind. I found myself noting how the author had somewhat missed the point on a few of the locations I've visited.