BOOK REVIEW: Atlas of Improbable Places by Travis Elborough

Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World's Most Unusual CornersAtlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book has entries on about fifty odd and off the beaten path locations. These locales are grouped into six parts that explore: “utopias,” abandoned places, bizarre architecture, islands, otherworldly destinations, and subterranean attractions.

There’s a standard set of graphics for each entry that include: a map that shows where in the world the place is, a photograph at that place, and a closeup map of the site’s immediate environs. The text describes a little about the history of each place and any quirky facts of relevance (such as how a location came to be abandoned.) The text also helps to clarify definitional issues such as what kind of utopian vision was being sought-after for the various [arguably] failed utopias of the first section.

I enjoyed this book. I’ve only visited two of the sites in the atlas (Ross Island and Auroville,) and I’m always excited to learn about more strange and unconventional destinations. I felt the atlas did succeed by presenting so many places I’d not only not visited, but about which I’d not even heard. (There are locations like Puerto Princessa [under-island river in the Philippines], Aokigahara [Japan’s suicide forest,] and “the Palm” [Dubai’s artificial islands] that are well-known to geography buffs, and many of the lesser-known sites are quirky tourist traps (Ten Commandments Mountain in North Carolina,) but –still — there are some fascinating but little-known locations in the book.) There is a disproportionate coverage of North American and European locations, presumably because that’s where the market for English language books disproportionately lies, and little coverage of African or South American locations.

If you’re into strange and remote travel locations, you may want to have a peek at this book.


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Thin Cities [Free Verse]

There are cities where
the veneer of normality 
is so thin

that it feels as though
one could fall through
at any time,
plummeting
into the true city.

Varanasi,
New Orleans,
Tokyo after midnight, 
parts of Prague & Bangkok

I can't say what's beneath
the veneer,
but, oh, does part of me
 want to know!

These are places 
better visited than lived in,
for their magic cannot 
survive extended proximity.

POEM: Faces & Places of My Dreams

I once read that one never dreams:
-a place one hasn’t been, or
-a face one hasn’t seen.

This is either false, or
I’ve been a lot of places:
-of which I’ve no waking recollection,
-which don’t exist in my photos, and
-which no one ever asks me,
“Do your remember that place…”

I’m less confident that my mind generates faces —
except that I’ve dreamt featureless faces, and
I’ve sure never seen one of those while awake.

But, given that a blonde wig on a brunette actress is
— apparently —
enough to keep me from identifying her,
I can’t be certain that I dream faces,
faces I’ve never seen in the real world —
and there have been oh so many faces.