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Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  2,882 ratings  ·  427 reviews
A tour of the world’s hidden geographies—from disappearing islands to forbidden deserts—and a stunning testament to how mysterious the world remains todayAt 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 ...more
Hardcover, 270 pages
Published July 8th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Phil Barber Yes, this book is non-fiction. The author describes various quirks in cartography, exploration, government and spatial/temporal awareness that lead to…moreYes, this book is non-fiction. The author describes various quirks in cartography, exploration, government and spatial/temporal awareness that lead to unique places in the world.(less)

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B Schrodinger
Books about maps and weird geography always get me. I'm a sucker for them.

Alastair Bonnett offers up "Off the Map" to us geo-nerds and it's premise is to talk about many weird places that have their weirdness due to several reasons. He breaks the reasons down into several categories or chapters: dead places, in-between places, places that never were and renegade places. You'll read about an island that was on maps into the early 2000s, even on google maps, that never existed, a town that grew up
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
authentic topophilia can never be satisfied with a diet of sunny villages. the most fascinating places are often also the most disturbing, entrapping, and appalling. they are also often temporary. in ten years' time most of the places we will be exploring will look very different; many will not be there at all. but just as biophilia doesn't lessen because we know that nature is often horrible and that all life is transitory, genuine topophilia knows that our bond with place isn't about findin
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I really enjoyed this book, and it will go right next to Atlas of Remote Islands on my geeky geography wishlist.

The author uncovers some obscure instances of secret/lost/unknown places, like floating pumice islands, towns not listed on maps in Russia, underground cities, and disappearing corners.

What about the music festival that happens in an ice cave in Norway? Sign me up.
Sep 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apart from some obscure bits of the Amazon rainforest and Indonesian jungles we think that there can be no undiscovered parts of the world; can there? Surely, we must have discovered everything on Google Earth by now. Off The Map sets about putting that record straight. In this book, Bonnett helps us discover secret places, unexpected islands, slivers of a metropolis and hidden villages. Russia seems to have more than its fair share of secret and abandoned cities. There is Zheleznogorsk, a milit ...more
Nancy Kennedy
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
In "Unruly Places," Alastair Bonnett has written neither a tour guide nor a history book. Instead, it's a sort of mash-up of history, philosophy and sociology applied to the geography of little-known places on the earth. In separate chapters, the author examines places as diverse as islands that appear only on maps, underground colonies, deserted cities, male-only religious territories, and even urban "gutterspace," or slivers of land between buildings.

Facts are my thing. Theory not so much. I f
Althea Ann
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a great book to pick up when you don't have the time (or attention span) to sit down and get engrossed in something lengthy. It feels almost like a compilation of a column from a magazine - a couple of pages devoted to each entry.

The theme is interesting places around the world. The focus is on the interstitial - things that are caught in the margins, between one thing and the other, not one thing or the other, overlooked, decaying, forgotten. Like many others, I find such things fascina
Thomas Cook
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-reads
I was disappointed in this book. I wanted to like it, and perhaps I am too much of a geographic stickler, but the read did not live up to the premise of the title. The author did not travel to many of the places listed, and there are too many places listed. Nor does the collection hang together. The book works well as a sampling of interesting places, and you can open it up anywhere and have a fun read; leave it in the restroom.
Emma Sea
I wanted to like this book a hell of a lot more than I did. I found it all a little too . . . ordinary. The places (or non-places) were well described, but the words lacked that magic sense of evocativeness, and the "what they tell us about the world" just . . . missed, somehow? Maybe it's because it's formatted as a series of almost encyclopedic entries, each about one specific place. There's no overall thematic structure or narrative to tie them together. Or maybe it's because these aren't, in ...more
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Susy and Phil Prosapio, Cathy Hartle
Recommended to Laura by: Publisher ARC
As stated in the publisher marketing "this is not a book you need to read cover to cover" and I have not though I would like to go back at some point and do so because it is clear the author has a particular flow to these essays in mind. Instead, I have been like a chicken pecking here and there in the grass when just steps away is a feeding trough neatly laid out. Ad though the reader can amass a wonderful collection of conversational trivia from this marvelous essay collection, it is far more ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This was something of an impulsive purchase, and it turned out to be lighter reading than I expected. Each section is very short, sometimes just three pages long, and it leaves you wondering why he included such-and-such a place if there was so little to say about it. After all, the point of this book is to highlight interesting stuff about places that don’t exist (that either never have, or no longer do, or can’t officially, or…), so surely it’s worth spending some time on each one. Instead, a ...more
Well, it took me longer to shelve the countries than it will to review...
This was a great drop-in-drop-out book - the way I used it was for a half hour here and a half hour there.
There are forty seven short stories in this book, divided into eight themes sections. They average about six pages each, so very manageable.

Of the forty seven stories, there were probably 10 great stories, another fifteen good ones, and at the other end, probably 10 that were terrible. That leaves a dozen that were rea
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
Do you suffer from "topophilia"? I think we all do as it is defined as "love of place". It is the fabric of our lives, a place to call home, memory, and identity. This book weaves topophilia into the author's search for those unusual places in the world that help define it and why, in most cases, people continue to inhabit these spaces. A social geographer, he takes us to areas that we didn't even know existed and to make it easier, he divides his chapters into such topics as lost spaces, no man ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this a lot, I really did, it's a curious exploration of hidden cities like mystery islands being uncovered and swallowed by the rising sea level, cemetery villages within a city, underground cities built to escape religious persecution and forgotten by time, or artificially created floating ice villages. However it felt really uneven in the quality of the pieces, the more interesting ones weren't explored thoroughly enough, and there's a good dose of authorial self insertion I thought re ...more
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some destinations aren’t on the maps. Some are, but in no conventional way. They don’t follow rules, which makes them by definition unruly and this book is a compendium of such locations. My second read by the author and again a terrific adventure. Bonnett is a professor of social geology, meaning not only does he know his subject, but he also presents it in a superbly fascinating, intellectually challenging and stimulating way. Not only did he find dozens of positively bizarre singular places, ...more
May 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Sooo... this book. I dove into this book after reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals and found the first chapters fascinating. Underground explorations, islands that appear and disappear seemingly at will, urban mini-properties? Cool! I gobbled it all up. Abandoned towns due to asbestos mining or nuclear accidents? Sad but fascinating.

Then we got to the part about imaginary places of sorts and my interest ground to a halt. I kept trying, but I lost interest. I just couldn't bring myself to finish.
Dec 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults.
Recommended to Helen by: No-one.
This was an interesting book of brief chapters dealing with out-of-the-way, forgotten, or anomalous (in one way or another) patches of land (or virtual land - as the case may be - since some "lands" that are discussed are man-made/temporary/boats. The author's prose is definitely a pleasure to read, with many felicitous turns of phrase. Also, the text is thought-provoking - for example, the author suggests that without borders, the world would be less fun, because it's the forbidden quality of f ...more
Steve Quinn
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very cool. A lot of "I had NO idea that existed" moments. Full disclosure- I work for the publisher of this book. But I ain't faking it....liked this one a lot.
Sacramento Public Library
R.E.M. asked listeners to “stand in the place where you are/think about direction and wonder why you haven’t before”. It’s a surprisingly powerful question, as is the question asked by the author of Unruly Places. What is space and what gives it meaning? As part of his consideration of the topic, the author visits or writes about unusual places around the world. There are modern lost cities, man-made islands, spaces between official borders, poisoned landscapes, breakaway nations and many more p ...more
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading this book on and off since it arrived as a gift from the Book Editor of the newspaper I do reviews for. I didn't have to review it, so just picked it up when I wanted to.

It's that kind of book anyway: the chapters are loosely organised under several headings, but each is fairly separate. It offers short windows into strange worlds that inhabit the same globe as the rest of us, but some are so striking you wonder how it is that you haven't heard about them before. All of them a
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
A clever and fun and thoughtful account of places that are off the map--- what Bonnett calls "lost spaces". Bonnett tours geographies that are messy, forgotten, lost, fading, abandoned--- ghost mining towns, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, imaginary islands, once-and-former secret cities in Siberia, slivers of urban space unaccounted for on tax rolls and deeds ---to look at how a world of GPS and Google Earth still hasn't been reduced to cartographic fixity and at how humans respond to place and m ...more
Jun 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Years ago, I read a strange travel memoir by Daniel Kalder, Lost Cosmonaut, which sparked a love in me for travelogues of places most people don't visit. When I saw Alastair Bonnett's Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies, I jumped at the chance to review it. Over the course of this philosophical meditation of place and our relationships with it, Bonnett takes us to pirate towns, floating man-made islands, massive avant-garde art projects, dead cities, Sibe ...more
Poor Bonnett keeps looking for places that are truly...special, somehow. He searches desperately in the corners and interstices of the map to find someplace properly off it. He wants, I suppose, somewhere free of the late-stage consumer capitalist etc, blah, paradigm. A place where things are extraordinary just by didn't of being there. He's honest enough to admit he fails. The tetchy sense of ennui and disappointment persists.

Oh, dear. I'm not certain, me, but I think I know the trick of creat
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
You know how magazines do those "Top 100" features, where everything has a short article but nothing gets covered in any depth? That's what this book felt like to me. I kept hoping I'd get a chance to settle in and enjoy a subject, but no, we just kept zipping on to somewhere new. There was little continuity or connection between locations, just separate mini-essays on each subject. Even within some essays I felt distracted: sometimes the author barely introduces the current location before he's ...more
I expected more from this book. More off the map and more exciting.

Off to the next one.
Sep 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
If this had just been a catalogue of odd and interesting places, I would have loved it, but I found the pervasive intrusion of the author's armchair psychoanalysis of the significance and/or meaning of such places to human beings presumptuous and grating (and sometimes even nonsensical). The thoughts and feelings he describes so frequently in the first-person plural so rarely were in accordance with my own thoughts and feelings that I started to cringe every time I saw the word "we" in this book ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: other
Unruly Places was a book I had been looking forward to reading for a while. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed upon reading it. Bonnett talks about what place means to people and what draws us to unruly places; how the modern homogenizing development makes us feel disconnected from the unique and special places. Which he is right about and is the same thing which draws readers like myself to books about these places. Unfortunately, he doesn't deliver on the draw. While I was drawn to this ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it liked it
I spotted this on the New Books shelf at the local library and couldn't resist.

It's an intriguing travelogue of various places around the world that no longer exist, have yet to exist or are otherwise hidden from the general populace either by chance or by decree. Bonnet delves into the historical as well as the geographical elements of each of these "unruly places" and provides some intriguing insights.

Among the areas discussed are the Sentinel Islands, home to one of the few (and probably mos
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
Written by a British professor who thinks that it is a meaningful exercise in urban exploration to try to navigate a daycare center while using a map of the Berlin subway system. A little too performance art-like and not enough factual explanations.

To add to the disappointment, most places he describes have longitude and latitude given in a difficult traditional form. For example 14º34'56"N, 192º45'12"E. He calls these "Google Earth" coordinates. But in fact they can not be easily entered into G
Jamie MacDonald Jones
Once again Alastair Bonnett continues the conversion about Geography in his trademark accessible style. This collection of geographical oddities not only serves to ignite the curiosity of the reader and teach them something of the strange and often transient places found across the world, but in each short section provides a distinct message about the way people practice Geography in their everyday lives. As an academic Geographer, I think that Bonnett does great work through this book in assert ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
I'm a huge topophile and geography nut, so I really expected to like this book, but it was almost unbearable. The author's voice is pretentiously obsessed with the philosophy of places and how they relate to the human condition, or something, and instead of being the book about unusual and interesting, potentially unmappable places that I was hoping to read, every chapter spent a page or two on the actual place and then four or five pages on how it symbolized something in humans' innate desire f ...more
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Alastair Bonnett is a professor of social geography at Newcastle University. He is the author of several books, including What Is Geography?, How to Argue, Left in the Past, and The Idea of the West. He has also contributed to history and current affairs magazines on a wide variety of topics.

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