Book Review: Atlas Obscura

If you read my Historical Highlights – the lists of links I post every Friday – you’ll have noticed that Atlas Obscura is one of my favourite websites. Well, last year the founders published a book, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, and Dylan Thuras.

A collection of 600 strange places around the world, this is the type of book I love to read while eating breakfast. It’s organized by continent (with a map at the beginning of each section) and then country. Each entry takes up about half a page and usually includes a colour photo.

You might expect this book to be focused squarely on geography, but you’ll find a heavy dose of history, too (along with botany, zoology, geology, archaeology, etc.).

Here are some examples:

  • Antikythera Mechanism in Athens, Greece (Discovered by sponge divers in 1900, it’s the “most advanced technological artifact of the pre-Common Era,” dating back to between 150 and 300 BC.)
  • Chand Baori Stepwell in Abhaneri, India (Built in the 9th century, this 13-storey structure looks like an M.C. Escher drawing.)
  • Kolmanskop Ghost Town in Luderitz, Namibia (Abandoned by the German diamond miners who founded it in 1908, this town is slowly being reclaimed by the desert.)
  • Paronella Park in Mena Creek, Australia (This park includes a castle built in the 1930s out of sand, clay, gravel, wood and old train tracks, as well as a pool, gardens, and tennis courts, all open to the public.)
  • Diefenbunker in Ottawa, Canada (The largest Cold War bomb shelter in Canada, now a museum.)
  • The last Incan grass bridge in Huinchiri, Peru (Rebuilt every year out of twisted grass, this bridge has spanned a steep gorge for 500 years.)
  • Shakleton’s hut in Antarctica (This famous hut, abandoned in 1909, is perfectly preserved by the frozen climate.)

I hope you’ll check out this book. You’ll find it makes good breakfast reading and offers endless bizarre conversation topics.