Beyond The Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands And Our Search For New Utopias, by Alastair Bonnett
There are some writers where the more you are aware of their worldview and approach, the less you like reading what they have to say, and that is certainly the case here. As is often the case, this author and I have similar interests with regards to quirky geography and the importance of having a sense of place . Unfortunately, similar interests with very dissimilar worldviews makes for often unpleasant reading, and that is the case here. This book, which was mercifully quick to read, would have been vastly better and vastly more enjoyable had the author spent more time talking about the places and less time sharing his views, because his views were far less enjoyable than the discussion of the history and issues of the odd places the author chose to discuss. This is becoming an increasing problem in many recent books, where people think that their own perspective is what is interesting when in reality it happens to be the odd but compelling subjects talked about by someone whose perspective is antithetical to the reader but who is blind to his own shortcomings as a guide.
This book is almost 300 pages and discusses 39 places in five parts. The author talks about unruly islands, pointing out the question of land rising while other land sinks, making some bogus comments about climate change and showing his leftist hand-wringing, and examining the problem of the Spratly islands and China’s provocations of its neighbors. After that the author looks at enclaves and uncertain nations, showing his lack of persistence in being able to handle the dialects of Ladin, his lack of religious knowledge in examining the Eruv of Bondi Beach, and his interest in Western Sahara, one I happen to share, along with a challenging look at the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and its issues with contemporary Catholic leadership. The author spends some time dealing with some utopian and dystopian places ranginh from Sao Paolo’s city of helicopters to the largely defunct (thankfully) Islamic State of the Levant, along with the wealthy but itinerant small business owners who fancy themselves nomads. The author looks at ghostly places that range from a suicide haven of a Japanese station to Newcastle’s skywalks to the forgotten British graveyard in Shimla, India. After that comes a look at hidden places including an address used for tax havens, places not included on Google Maps’ street view, trap streets on maps used to foil counterfeiters, and China’s underground military bases on Hainan.
Ultimately, this author makes his political worldview very clear in this book, and I dislike almost all of it. The author celebrates paganism and the phony geomancy of many who practice it today, but shows little or no interest in or understanding or sympathy towards Christianity or Judaism, even if he interacts with it quite a bit in his journeys. He makes it plain that this list of odd places, like that in his other works, is not meant as a definitive list but is rather meant to provoke the reader into seeing other places that are like these ones, which is easy enough to do. If the author’s politics are dire and his perspective annoying and not particularly worthwhile, the author’s love of odd places and seeking to understand what they say about us as human beings and about the behavior of businesses and governments and ordinary people whose behavior is shaped by our environment in ways we often do not realize is worth examining, even if we come to (hopefully) very different conclusions and judgments to those of the author himself.
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