Book Review: Atlas of Remote Islands – Judith Schalansky

by Dom on February 5, 2011

I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of book reviews. They seem a little bizarre to me, and very rarely do I ever see one that makes me think I should go and buy the book. There are two reasons for this.

  1. If the book looks interesting from the subject matter or the title, I’ll try my best to remember it and hunt it out next time I go to a bookshop; no need to read the review.
  2. If I’ve read the review, which happens very seldom, I have probably not been convinced I want to read the book. The more I read without betting into the headspace mentioned above, the more I don’t want to know more.

So, with this in mind, I have decided to start adding book reviews to this site. I don’t think there will be many, and I don’t think they will happen very often, but let’s see what happens. First victim: Atlas of Remote Islands: fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will. Judith Schalansky, 2010, ISBN: 9781846143489, Penguin Publishing.

Basically, the Atlas is a selection of remote islands with interesting stories, colourful pasts and amazing phenomena present. As the subtitle suggests, Judith Schalansky (the author) has not actually visited the islands mentioned in the book, and those who know the islands mentioned will probably find the chosen stories abort each place somewhat strange. This is probably true of the Banaba entry, and a couple of others I have no idea about myself….

The flip side of the above criticism of course is that we are left asking ourselves after each entry, what else happened there? And what else did the people in the story go next? This is the real magic of such a book, that it entices you to keep reading and digging and asking. For this, I found Wikipedia most helpful. The journey around the world is enthralling, each entry only one page and short enough to hold your interest, and the next page tantalisingly tempting.

So, all in all it’s an interesting book, great to fill in an afternoon. Even better if you have Wikipedia handy while reading, just to check things out. And a quirk I can’t decide if I loathed or liked, since I have actually visited some of the island mentioned in this book, I’m probably more qualified than the author to comment, which is an interesting experience in itself!

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