Atlas of the Unexpected by Travis Elborough – Review
By Victoria Holdsworth
For the armchair explorer this book is a must. It is filled with all things weird and wonderful, adventures, history, a pinch of science, all beautifully presented with some terrific photography and illustrations throughout.
It is a collection of places that are most unusual, which exist in some of the furthest corners of the world. Forget the 7 Wonders, these are places that are far more interesting and much less explored, focusing on the odd and mystifying.
The book itself is split into five different sections, so the reader is able to marvel at accidental discoveries, like the unearthing of the Dead Sea Scrolls by none other than a goat, places with strange roots, haphazard destinations, cavernous locations and serendipitous spaces.
Who knew that Fort Bragg, USA had a ‘glass beach’ which was created from decades of people dumping rubbish into an area of coastline near the northern part of the town. We learn of a place called Just Enough Room Island, which is the smallest inhabited island on earth, coming in at 3,000 square feet, which has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach, all purchased in the 1950s by the Sizeland family.
One of the most interesting places in the book is Chess City, located east of Elista, Kalmykia, in Russia. As it promises on the tin, everything is chess related, including complex sculptures and artwork devoted to chess.
The author, Travis Elborough has previously written articles on all aspects of travel and culture, from pirates in the Caribbean to donkeys at the British seaside. He really makes the whole reading experience interesting, and it flows really well, visually and contextually, unlike a lot of fact-based books. He helps you to find beauty in things you may not have given a second thought to before, such as Fly Geyser, a small geothermal geyser located on private land in Washoe County, Nevada, which is truly magical, where its beautiful colours come from thermophilic algae.
One of the best strange roots tales is about the invention of Vaseline. In 1872 a gentleman called Robert Chesebrough accidentally created one of the largest selling skin care products in the world from a by-product residue called “rod wax” that had to be periodically removed from oil rig pumps. Always handy to know in a pub quiz!
The maps in this book are extremely informative, and give a whole new perspective on what you are actually reading about, helping you to visualise how all these places exist, from the unimaginable to the uninhabitable, and the sections provide a reminder to all the readers about the complexity of planet Earth.
There were so many places in here that I had never actually heard of before, so it made a refreshing change not to skip past anything. What was a real breath of fresh air is that the book includes lots of contemporary places and items. Atlas of the Unexpected covers a lot of differing interest bases, including geography, science, travelling and history and would make a wonderful gift for anyone with a thirst for knowledge and an interest in the strange and obscure.
‘Atlas of the Unexpected: Haphazard discoveries, chance places and unimaginable destinations’ by Travis Elborough is published by White Lion, £20 hardback