Book Review: Atlas Of Improbable Places

Atlas Of Improbable Places:  A Journey To The World’s Most Unusual Corners, by Travis Elborough & Alan Horsfield

It’s not surprising that I am attracted to atlases of odd and unusual places [1].  I always considered it axiomatic that odd people would be interested in odd places.  Moreover, we live in a world where it is assumed that exploration and satellite mapping and technology have made the world an entirely understood places where there is no weirdness left.  On the contrary, technologies have often revealed that the world is more weird than we previously thought.  There are still mysterious cities that we know existed–like the ancient Mittani capital–that still are unknown, and this book does a good job of revealing to the reader the way that the world still retains a strong sense of weirdness in ways that are not always easily understood.  There are many ways that the world can be more strange, and quite a few of them are shown here–whether we are looking at cities where creation has overwhelmed human design, or places where human beings have done very strange things that deserve to be remembered, and also places that have a certain je ne sais quoi to them that draws attention.

There are 51 locations talked about in this book of a bit more than 200 pages, all of them with maps and photos and supporting text, divided into six sections.  The first section contains a few cities that serve as “dream creations,” including utopian cities, quirky experiments in squatting, and the home that Hearst built for himself, as well as an area reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch and made into their fourteenth state.  The next section talks about some deserted destinations including Cuba’s former model panopticon penitentiary, a deserted mining island off the coast of Japan, an abandoned English fort, a lost city in Mexico abandoned after a volcanic eruption, and a drained port in the Aralkum Desert.  Following this comes a look at architectural odditities, including the only place on the list I have yet to see personally, the concrete henge at Maryhill, Washington, along with some odd Euro bridges based off of currency, the controversial Senegal monument to African freedom, and one odd place I want to see a lot, the London Bridge of Lake Havasu, Arizona.  After that comes some looks at odd floating worlds, including strange islands and the uninhabited Great Blasket off the coast of Ireland, a few otherworldly places that are strange and terrifying for various reasons, and a few suberranean realms including Cincinatti’s abandoned subway system.

There are quite a few ways in which these particular places discussed in the book are improbable.  Some of them represent places where mankind has seized land that one would think would belong to creation, such as an entire Dutch state made of polders and filled with towns and farms.  Other places are situations where creation, in the form of volcanoes and deserts, has taken over areas that people had once made home.  Still others are the result of economic changes that made it impossible to finish what was done, or are the result of decisions made that were later canceled or repurposed.  It is remarkable to ponder the ways that our decisions remain as relics and ruins long after the need or want for those places to carry on does, and how transient the glory that we seek for ourselves through our construction.  Visiting odd and quirky places is a good way of pondering many complex questions on the way that people are both powerful and weak when it comes to dealing with the ways of God’s creation and in imitating His example.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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