At The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Paul Weimer reviews Atlas Obscura. “So is there a point to the book? Is there any good reason to read the book and not just go trolling and traversing through the website, which has many more entries? Yes. Even in an interconnected world such as ours, there is a tactile experience to flipping through this book, coffee table style […] While wandering through links on the website is a time-honored tradition, the book has a presentation that the website can’t quite match.” I reviewed Atlas Obscura last September.
Forbes contributor Tanya Mohn reviews Katherine Harmon’s latest map art book, You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City (previously). If all goes well (it doesn’t always, mind), I should have my own review of this book up later this week. [WMS]
As for the other new map book about New York City, Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s Non-Stop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, there’s a review up on Hyperallergic by Allison Meier, replete with photos of the book. “Every map is an intense act of creative collaboration, with essays and illustrations in Nonstop Metropolis from over 30 artists and writers. […] And the maps emphasize that this city’s character is often missing from our more official cartography.” [WMS]
Travis Elborough’s Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners came out last month from Aurum Press. The maps are by Alan Horsfield. “With beautiful maps and stunning photography illustrating each destination, Atlas of Improbable Places is a fascinating voyage to the world’s most incredible destinations. As the Island of Dolls and the hauntingly titled Door to Hell—an inextinguishable fire pit—attest, mystery is never far away.”
This appears to be another entry in the curated-collection-of-unusual-places genre, typified by such books as Atlas Obscura (my review), the Atlas of Remote Islands, the Atlas of Cursed Places (my review) or Unruly Places/Off the Map (my review).
Related: Map Books of 2016.
Atlas Obscura, the website, has been aggregating an online database of unusual and interesting places around the world for the past several years. Atlas Obscura, the company, has been expanding at a rapid pace these past few years, hiring former Slate editor David Plotz as their CEO in 2014. One result of said expansion has now come to fruition in the form of Atlas Obscura, the book, out this week from Workman Publishing. Written by co-founders Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras and associate editor Ella Morton, Atlas Obscura is basically a curated subset of the online Atlas Obscura experience.
Like the Atlas of Cursed Places (reviewed here), Atlas Obscura is not an atlas per se. There are maps, but they exist to locate the subjects of the essays that make up this book. Those subjects—those weird and wonderful places—also appear on the website, but the essays are different; in the sample I compared, the book’s version is considerably briefer and more dense. This is to be expected: when you have fewer than 500 pages to work with, you have to make some zero-sum editorial decisions. Fewer, more fulsome pieces, or more pieces of shorter length. Atlas Obscura has opted for the latter, with pieces that are frustratingly, tantalizingly brief, each followed by a little information on how to get there (or, in some cases, whether you can get there). Even then only a fraction of the places that appear online appear between the book’s covers.
But browsing a website is not the same experience as reading a book. No one would try to go through the entire Atlas Obscura database; the book allows for a big-picture look at the sort of thing found there. A curated subset, as I said above. A taster’s menu. The book also rewards serendipity and pleasant surprises: whether you’re reading from beginning to end (as I did for this review), looking for specific continents, regions or countries, or flipping through pages at random, you’re bound to encounter an entry you hadn’t expected to come across. If there’s value in a hard-copy (or electronic: Kindle, iBooks) version of something freely available online in expanded form, it’s here. And let me be clear: that’s not nothing.
I received an electronic advance review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
Buy Atlas Obscura via Amazon or iBooks.
Related: Map Books of 2016.
Always nice to see a familiar website turn up in book form. This time it’s Atlas Obscura’s turn. Altas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders comes out from Workman Publishing in September but can be pre-ordered now.
See my Map Books of 2016 page for other books of interest coming out later this year (several of which I have added within the last week or so).
Update, 19 September: My review of Atlas Obscura.
Gear Patrol interviews Ben Olins and Jane Smillie, the founders of travel guide publisher Herb Lester Associates. “[A]fter designing three unique maps in three major cities, they realized there was something to the idea of curating small guides (nothing too expensive, or too ordinary) accompanied by hand-drawn maps. As the company celebrates its sixth birthday this month, we caught up with the founders to chat about maps with personality, curating entire cities and the pitfalls of travel.” Amazon [NLS Maps]