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Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable… (2014)

by Alastair Bonnett

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4661841,137 (3.59)23
"The real-life answers to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Unruly Places explores the most extraordinary, off-grid, offbeat places on the planet. Alastair Bonnett's tour of the planet's most unlikely micro-nations, moving villages, secret cities, and no man's lands shows us the modern world from surprising new vantage points, bound to inspire urban explorers, off-the-beaten-trail wanderers, and armchair travelers. He connects what we see on maps to what's happening in the world by looking at the places that are hardest to pin down: inaccessible zones, improvised settlements, multiple cities sharing the same space. Consider Sealand, an abandoned gun platform off the English coast that a British citizen claimed as his own sovereign nation, issuing passports and making his wife a princess. Or Baarle, a patchwork city of Dutch and Flemish enclaves where crossing the street can involve traversing national borders. Or Sandy Island, which appeared on maps well into 2012 despite the fact it never existed. Illustrated with original maps and drawings, Unruly Places gives readers a new way of understanding the places we occupy. "--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
A fun, lightweight collection of geographical facts. ( )
  imagists | Sep 20, 2021 |
A blend of history, anthropology, and theory, Bonnett's writing here often has the journalistic feel of a series of particularly engaging New Yorker articles. I'm not sure the book will make me think about my own relationship to places and spaces -- which is a slight failure of the theoretical parts -- but there were at least enough "Wow, really?!" moments that I would happily recommend it to friends who are interested in random interesting geographical bits.

The places are grouped into the following categories/chapter headings: Lost Spaces, Hidden Geographies, No Man's Lands, Dead Cities, Spaces of Exception, Enclaves and Breakaway Nations, Floating Islands, and Ephemeral Places. I found the first six sections better than the final two. The former had more detail about each place while the latter by their very natures were more theoretical. Like some other reviewers, I would have preferred either a longer book which covered each place in greater detail, or a book of the same length which covered fewer places, leaving room for... greater detail. In a book about places, and peoples' relationships to them, why not write even more about, well, the places themselves?

One of the main takeaways for me is that I now want to seek out more information on some of the places that Bonett discusses so briefly. Make of that what you will. Overall its great reporting but personally I found the book a little lacking in artful prose. A John McPhee Alastair Bonnett is not. ( )
  modioperandi | May 12, 2020 |
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 military town that never existed on any map and still retains some of its secrecy today. Probably the most infamous is Pripyat, abandoned days after the nuclear explosion at Chenobyl, it is slowly being reclaimed by nature; the amount of radiation means that the area will not be safe for humans to reoccupy for at least 900 years. Give or take…

Bonnett tells us about disputed borders that mean that the people still living there are unattached to any nation, a man in New York who bought the tiny strips of land alongside tower blocks for a few dollars each. There is Sealand, a fortress built in World War Two and now a self-declared principality in the North Sea. Other islands exist in out oceans too, some that are on maps that have never been there, others made from rubbish that has collected together and occasionally floating rocks; or pumice as it is better known, the residue from underwater volcanoes. There is also a huge vessel called the World, collectively owned by the residents, it ploughs the seas keeping all the riff-raff away. He mentions the abandoned villages of England from the second world war, including one just down the road from me; Arne.

It is a fascinating book, full of weird and wonderful trivia about places that you really wouldn’t want to visit on your holidays. It is also an exploration of what makes a landscape and the things we draw from it. Worth reading for anyone who is fascinated by those places that just don’t fit the map. 3.5 stars ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
The best part of this book is that it's not just some fact book or sensationalized travel guide. It touches on the human aspects of the places mentioned and fits them into a variety of psychological and sociological theories. Even at that, it reads fluently and provides a lot of directions for further reading. ( )
  alexezell | Nov 14, 2018 |
Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett is essentially a sociological and philosophical study of what 'place' really means to each of us. The author explores 47 different locales around the globe (usually with GPS coordinates included) and divides them by type (floating cities, underground bunkers, and places without borders to name a few). He examines the dichotomy in wanting a place which is set in stone and also desiring to be itinerant travelers like our ancestors. Until I read this I had never really thought about the significance that we as humans associate with place. The historical and geographical facts Bonnett detailed were especially fascinating (examples include: pumice rafts, Sealand (they have their own passports!), and the enclaves of Belgium). The pacing was just right and the material kept me engaged throughout (which by this point in the year is a challenge). I really like to learn about places that are far removed from the everyday and Bonnett delivered on that in spades. For those with wanderlust in their heart or a desire to learn about phenomenally odd and/or out of the way locales then this is a great little book. I bet it would make an excellent travel companion on any vacation! 10/10 ( )
  AliceaP | Oct 6, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alastair Bonnettprimary authorall editionscalculated
Nassef, LaurenIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perkins, DerekNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The real-life answers to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Unruly Places explores the most extraordinary, off-grid, offbeat places on the planet. Alastair Bonnett's tour of the planet's most unlikely micro-nations, moving villages, secret cities, and no man's lands shows us the modern world from surprising new vantage points, bound to inspire urban explorers, off-the-beaten-trail wanderers, and armchair travelers. He connects what we see on maps to what's happening in the world by looking at the places that are hardest to pin down: inaccessible zones, improvised settlements, multiple cities sharing the same space. Consider Sealand, an abandoned gun platform off the English coast that a British citizen claimed as his own sovereign nation, issuing passports and making his wife a princess. Or Baarle, a patchwork city of Dutch and Flemish enclaves where crossing the street can involve traversing national borders. Or Sandy Island, which appeared on maps well into 2012 despite the fact it never existed. Illustrated with original maps and drawings, Unruly Places gives readers a new way of understanding the places we occupy. "--

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