A tour of the world’s hidden geographies—from disappearing islands to forbidden deserts—and a stunning testament to how mysterious the world remains today
At a time when Google Maps Street View can take you on a virtual tour of Yosemite’s remotest trails and cell phones double as navigational systems, it’s hard to imagine there’s any uncharted ground left on the planet. In Unruly Places, Alastair Bonnett goes to some of the most unexpected, offbeat places in the world to reinspire our geographical imagination.
Bonnett’s remarkable tour includes moving villages, secret cities, no man’s lands, and floating islands. He explores places as disorienting as Sandy Island, an island included on maps until just two years ago despite the fact that it never existed. Or Sealand, an abandoned gun platform off the English coast that a British citizen claimed as his own sovereign nation, issuing passports and crowning his wife as a princess. Or Baarle, a patchwork of Dutch and Flemish enclaves where walking from the grocery store’s produce section to the meat counter can involve crossing national borders.
An intrepid guide down the road much less traveled, Bonnett reveals that the most extraordinary places on earth might be hidden in plain sight, just around the corner from your apartment or underfoot on a wooded path. Perfect for urban explorers, wilderness ramblers, and armchair travelers struck by wanderlust, Unruly Places will change the way you see the places you inhabit.
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Over the past 2,000 years and more, nearly every corner of Earth has been charted and mapped, scrutinized and analyzed, photographed from street level or space, and uploaded to the Web. Alastair Bonnett, a professor of social geography at Newcastle University in the U.K., sets out to investigate those places that traditional cartographers can’t capture—such as the RV-filled parking lot of Los Angeles International Airport, a crowded cemetery in Manila, or a people-less city in Mongolia. At a time when the world and all of its secrets seem to have been bottled up, Unruly Places makes a terrifically readable and fascinating case for nurturing our sense of place, an idea that humanity’s been contemplating and seeking out from the very beginning.
In short, four-to-five page essays, social geographer Bonnett explores forbidding cities like the pirate stronghold of Hobyo, Somalia, the abandoned town of Pripyat, hard by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and the underground towns of Turkish Cappadocia; dejected dwellings, like the RV camp at LAX's Parking Lot E and the secret "Bright Light" CIA detention center in Bucharest; fake places, like the empty British towns built to distract German bombers from real ones and the completely imaginary Sandy Island, which appeared on maps of the Pacific for a century until it was discovered not to exist; a homey fox den and an inaccessible traffic island near the author's English home. Bonnett digs up interesting lore on these 47 offbeat sites that, together, "conspire to make the world seem a stranger place where discovery and adventure are still possible, both nearby and far away.",. Bonnett's charming, pensive prose and light-handed erudition illuminates the stubborn human impulse to find a home in the unlikeliest places.