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The Atlas

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  686 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Hailed by Newsday as "the most unconventional--and possibly the most exciting and imaginative--novelist at work today," William T. Vollmann has also established himself as an intrepid journalist willing to go to the hottest spots on the planet. Here he draws on these formidable talents to create a web of fifty-three interconnected tales, what he calls ?a piecemeal atlas of ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published June 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  686 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Ian "Marvin" Graye

"I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head." [Bowie/Pop]

"He said everything is messed up around here, everything is banal and jejune." [Cave]

Ways of Gazing

...but evidently this is the nature of the world in which the author/narrator construct attempts to find himself in "The Atlas", while gazing at first world lakes and mountains and grass, freebasing with pimps and whores galore, and rescuing vulnerable third world women/girls in the name of lur
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Sweet Reader,

Allow me to corral this stampede of kittens. One Blind Billy was so in love. Then his "wife" left him. There wasn't a ceremony as such, he just knew it. This was love for Lifetime movie Network, it lasted as long as he bought her drinks and paid for the hotel room. She was gone. Blind Billy then had horrific heartache in his penis. He had to win her back. Traveling through more time zones than a Jim Jarmusch film, Blind Billy discovered some indelible truths. Clean water and being e
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vollmann's Map of the World. Can you descry what territory it describes? Cosmic loneliness. May the Angel of Forgetfulness quickly cloud all of our eyes before we reach the other shore. ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vollmann is, famously, impervious to editing. He’s gone on record as saying that he is willing to endure a lot of lugubrious assignments to ensure that his books are untouched. The Atlas shows this, both to its advantage and detriment. There are no two ways around it: if some of the stories had been culled, this would be a perfect book. But with so much breadth and span—53 stories!—some are bound to fall short of the mark.

But the ones that hit, my God. Thousands of pages of Vollmann read and m
Joshua West
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ostensibly a series of tenuously connected short stories, The Atlas reads like an assemblage of Vollmann's fractured recollections and imaginings from throughout his travels, mingled and stewed together into a single stream of undifferentiated consciousness until the former are indistinguishable from the latter. The influence of surrealism, of Lautremeant is palpable.
Vollamnn's voice is incredibly unique, managing to sound at once naive and world-weary. Despite the incredible horrors on display
David M
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
The only wisdom is to drift - Francis Bacon (the painter)

This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin through - Tom Waits

It's kind of a cliche to say this, but honestly who would expect the author of this book (published in 1996) to still be alive 20 years later?

Here travel mainly appears as a way to aggressively court death. In the past half century or so novelists with serious artistic ambitions have become more sheltered and insular, lifelong denizens of the artificial world of college campu
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
from jungle trails, river sides of the far north, war torn streets, bar alleys, bullfights, riding in cars, buses and trains, drinking and eating, sex and traveling.
Robert Isenberg
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Some of the most magnificent prose I've ever read -- short, staggering pieces assembled from long, beautiful sentences, like poetry without stanzas. Truly incredible. Bill does have an over-the-top obsession with prostitutes -- and I, knowing this reputation, thinking that he was just upset about the nature of the sex trade, had no idea that he was a frequent customer. Vollman himself reminds me, to a certain degree, of that really annoying indie rocker who's partied with all the great bands and ...more
William Vollmann writes stories on similar themes of war and sex for sale, set all over the world, but with a few focused locations -- America's urban fringe, Northern Canada, Bosnia, Southeast Asia. With the constant switching of locations and characters in these stories, it's got this almost William S. Burroughs cut-up quality, especially the central, titular story, in which there's no warning about a switch in setting.

But does the actual content of the cut-up bits count for much? I'm not so s
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
How can you even review a book like this? What parts of the world did he not write about in this book, what cultures and subcultures did he leave out and which human dynamics did he neglect? Looking back, the scope of this work is overwhelming.

Outside of that, this is really a big sampling of Vollmann. It contains some of his finest descriptive prose as well as his rougher, colloquially driven writing.

I gave this four stars because it also features another thematic dynamic of Vollmann’s style:
Christopher Condit
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is filled with wildly different vignettes from Vollmann's life around the world.

These are superb, essential vignettes, which you must read:
That's nice
Exalted by the Wind
The Atlas
A Vision
Disappointed by the Wind
Incarnations of the Murderer
Outside and Inside

Browse the other chapters in accordance with your tastes, however I recommend you skip all the stories focussed on prostitution and on junkies. These are very unpleasant.
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I just wrote a great long review and then it disappear when I tried to enter it. Arggggg. This is one of my favorite books ever. My life changed the day I bought it for one dollar from a B&N bargain bin and I have since happily bought many other copies at full price for other people. The range of writing styles, feelings, themes, and global places covered here is very rare and amazing. This is the perfect intro to Vollmann too. 53 perfect little stories (52 little ones actually and one really b ...more
Maxwell Rosenbloom
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Profoundly sad. Contains some of my favorite pieces I've read by Vollmann so far. It would be more impactful if its content was cut by a fourth, However, Part of Vollmann's charm is his unwillingness to submit to his editors. Within these pages he embarks on a nightmarish psilocybin trip one month after two friends violently died in front of him, hitchhikes among swarms of mosquitos and explores the cultural underbellies of nearly every continent. ...more
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
vollmann is a writer with great humility. it seems like the writer's task to process the world and create a perspective, some kind of an angle that makes sense for the reader, but Vollmann is all circles and air. he's difficult to understand, but he is incredibly honest and his incomprehensibility is delivered directly from the world which is his inspiration to the person holding the book.

also, vollmann's introduction reminded me very very much of the sentiment of leonard cohen's preface for Be
Dec 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
She was dressed in a kimono and she spoke English like a Japanese. When she haltingly sang a karaoke love-song, she sang wirging.

Oh, are you a virgin? I said.

Nit noy. Little bit.

This is the rawness that the 53 stories of The Atlas pursue. I am reminded of a burnt-out detective, running the beat in a hopeless town, roused to arms (in the loosest sense of the word) by a mild opiate. You get to peek into his past when he utters some slipshod phrase as you top-up his mug with tar black coffee. You h
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
The Atlas is a collection of essays written by William Vollmann during his travels as a journalist, many times in war zones. The places written about include the following; Sicily, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, various parts of the United States, Madagascar, France, Canada, Thailand, Cambodia, Germany, Israel, Jordan, Hungary, Egypt, India, Australia, Burma, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Mauritius, Tasmania, Somalia, Switzerland, Poland, Belize, Bosnia and Croatia.

These are not happy traveling essays. R
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
A series of vignettes based on journalist/author Willam Vollmann's many travels and experiences around the globe, some of these are autobiographical, fiction, fantastical, or blur the lines between all three. From my perspective the stories ranged from incredible slices of life to way too abstract for me to truly enjoy, but the beauty is with few stories more than a couple pages you can focus on what you enjoy. Hopefully you enjoy prostitutes, though, as they have been an interest of Vollmann's ...more
Sean Thomas Sullivan
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Vollmann is one of the best writers of our generation and this is an amazing book, but I still can't recommend it. Just like I wouldn't recommend a punch in the face, although if you have never been hit in the kisser, it might be a worthwhile experience. As a writer Vollmann is a mix of Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, and The Devil, but as a storyteller he is something different all together. He manages to be both journalistic in his details and surreal with his events, without stumbling or sho ...more
Jun 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
William Vollman's take on travel writing?...though the destinations are as much an Atlas of his worldview and experience than any sort of guide for bohemian backpackers...besides, Vollman relishes going where others would never want or dare to...perhaps not since Hunter Thompson have the lines between the worlds of novel writing and journalism been so blurred... vivid, surrealistic, sordid, sensational, a word amazing.... ...more
Oct 29, 2007 rated it liked it
i'm rereading this and am feeling like it is oddly and lazily pieced. . .i am also really struck (again as i always am when reading early vollman) with the dynamic of female prostitution and his seeming fascination with sex as deathly and irresistable. the procreative aspect/potential is virtually absent. and it's striking because you very seldom see this depiction. ...more
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who lives raw-
this is just simply the ultimate book. although i find myself disagreeing with him so much of the time on principle (particularly on his views of helpless women), i'm totally drawn into his world. his descriptions are visceral and ultimately sincere. the fact that he lives his stories brings the rawness of his world and his truth to life in a unique way. i have never read an author like him. ...more
Mar 27, 2010 added it
Shelves: abandoned
Just starting the huge variety and shortness of locales. I am fond of his advice for other uses with the book should one find it tedious...codeine substitute, fly swatter, eye guard, sleep-inducer, etc...

OK, I had to stop reading once I got to the seal hunting and gutting. Gross.
Samuel Gee
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Third Vollmann. He can outwrite anyone living but do we really need another 100 pages of white man chases brown prostitutes? Apparently, yes, we do. Ugh. Some of these stories are beautiful enough to get away with murder.
Alex Dimaio
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
The same story over and over.
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Vollman is among the most interesting writers in North America, this book confirms it.
May 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Vollman is a dirty old man and a wonderful writer.
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vollmann is the Hemingway we really wanted, the one just for us, who on his rootless travels shows infinite tenderness for those most desperate of souls inhabiting the most desperate of situations around the globe.

I consider Vollmann one of finest living writers in the world, his style is intensely unique and full of good humor. If I were recommending a book of his, either as an introduction or as being among his best, I probably wouldn't pick this one, but it certainly wears a lot of his charac
Oct 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Bits of the sublime ('The Hill of Gold,' 'The Angel of Prison') mixed with the not-so-good and lots of talk of crack, heroin and sex workers ...more
Mito Habe-Evans
Jan 12, 2008 marked it as to-read
this collection of short tales that take place all over the world is enjoyable story to story, but check this out, vollmann writes in the intro:

'for those who require games and calculations in order to drowse, i should state that this collection is arranged palindromically: the motif in the first story is taken up again in the last; the second story finds its echo in the second to last, and so on.'

it's taking me a while to get through it because with each story i keep jumping to the correlated s
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William T Vollman...: 1996 The Atlas 12 87 Feb 06, 2020 04:35PM  

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William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

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“He had begun to believe that this might be one of those perfect days which are sometimes given to you so gently and lovingly that they are half over before you comprehend their perfection.” 0 likes
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